Image: Eddie Silva
Eric Risberg  /  AP
Eddie Silva, a staff sergeant select with the U.S. Marines, is greeted by a guide dog during a lifestyles orientation class at Guide Dogs for the Blind in San Rafael, Calif., on May 22.
updated 11/27/2008 4:46:19 PM ET 2008-11-27T21:46:19

All three were shattered, in different ways. Eddie Silva lost his sight. For June Moss, the wounds were emotional. Shrapnel from an explosion tore into Angel Gomez's head.

They are three among of tens of thousands of U.S. service members to return from the war in Iraq needing intensive, expert help to get their lives back on track. Each has made progress — after arduous regimens of therapy or counseling at the VA health center in Palo Alto, Calif. — and each knows more challenges lie ahead.

Silva, a Marine sergeant, was blinded by roadside bomb in August 2007 while on a foot patrol outside Fallujah during his fifth overseas tour. After a year of physical and occupational therapy, he savors his return toward self-sufficiency.

"The toughest part is what you've got to learn all over again," he said. "The reward is when you master it, and you get that independence that you're dying to get back — cooking, doing your laundry, using a computer, how to use a phone."

A father of three, Silva hopes to get a college degree and then do counseling for the VA, offering the kind of help that he received from a parade of VA employees.

"I gave 100 percent," said Silva, 27. "They gave 100 percent back."

'I couldn't fix him and fix me too'
Moss served in the Army for 12 years, rising to staff sergeant, and was deployed to Iraq in 2003. Only on her first leave after returning to the United States did problems arise.

"The crying fits started, I couldn't sleep. I knew something was wrong," Moss said.

Eventually diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, Moss, 37, has been undergoing weekly counseling sessions for five years.

Now a civilian, she assists needy and homeless veterans as an employee of the chaplains' office at the Palo Alto VA.

"It's humbling," she said of her work. "It makes you think about your own self. Why are you moaning, when these people are coming in who've been living under overpasses?"

Moss had been married to a fellow soldier who served simultaneously in Iraq, but the marriage collapsed when he refused to join in family therapy after they both experienced post-deployment problems.

"I couldn't fix him and fix me too," she said.

Now, as a single mom, she's raising a 12-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son, and credits them for a positive approach to her recovery and her work.

"They encouraged me to say it's not bad to tell others you're getting help, taking medication," Moss said. "I feel I have to be stronger, bigger, let people know it's not a weakness, its a strength."

'A lot of things I still can't do'
Gomez, 23, was on his second tour of duty with the Marines in Iraq when an explosive device blasted apart the truck he was driving in a nighttime convoy near Ramadi in April 2005.

"All of a sudden there was this big bang," he recalled. "I was really messed up — a piece of shrapnel hit me right next to the ear.

"I was bleeding like crazy. They took me to the base. I passed out and was in a coma two weeks."

When Gomez reached Palo Alto — home to one of the VA's four brain injury centers — he was unable to walk or talk. Now, after three years of rigorous therapy, he's able to drive himself to a community college and has regained most movement, although his right arm remains paralyzed.

His regimen has included speech therapy, aquatic therapy and, more recently, hippotherapy — riding horses at an equine center in Woodside, Calif.

"I want to do a lot of things I still can't do," he said. "I see a lot of people who don't want to work, who don't do anything. That gets me upset. They have every limb in their body they can use. Now I see what I have — I'm thankful for what I have."

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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