By Chief foreign affairs correspondent
NBC News
updated 3/12/2004 7:52:42 PM ET 2004-03-13T00:52:42

Robert Acosta, 20 years old, is back home in Southern California after seven months of medical treatment.

A year ago, he went to Iraq, hoping for a military career — now he's trying to adjust to life as a disabled civilian. "It's really rough. I don’t know, adjusting is, like I said, really hard. I feel like I don’t fit in," Acosta said.

His world changed in a flash in July, when he tried to toss a grenade out of his Humvee. "I had it in my hand; it went off in my hand. And it took my hand off and shattered my left leg,” Acosta said.

That was the start of a painful journey from Iraq to a hero's homecoming in California.

Robert is one of more 3,000 U.S. servicemen and women injured in Iraq. Many get world-class medical care in Washington at Walter Reed Medical Center and then face a tough return to civilian life.

The Veterans Administration provides counseling to former soldiers like Louis Calderon in Miami. "First I want to get comfortable.  Just live.  Get used to the way I am right now," Calderon said.

Dr. John Vara of the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Miami said, "To have gone away healthy and young and to come back and to find that you can’t do what you wanted to do involves a tremendous adjustment."

David Gorman, a double amputee from Vietnam, encourages Iraq veterans to seek psychological help. "There is nothing to be embarrassed about or ashamed about,” Gorman said. “If you need the help, go in and seek it."

Home with his family, Acosta now faces daily challenges, big and small. "I’ve broken quite a few glasses and stuff like that, trying to wash dishes," he said.

"I just think he's come through this whole thing with a lot of grace and dignity," said his wife, Patricia.

Like many young people, Robert is setting up his first apartment and building his future — but with obstacles he had never imagined.

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