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Monument Honors Vets Left With Scars, Physical Or Mental


A new memorial opens today here in Washington, D.C. It's just off the National Mall near the U.S. Capitol Building. The structure of granite, bronze, and glass pays tribute to servicemen and women permanently wounded in the line of duty.

The Department of Veterans Affairs says there are more than 3 million veterans living with disabilities today. Noah Currier is one of them. In 2004, three days after his unit returned from Iraq, he was in a car accident on base and broke his neck.

NOAH CURRIER: It was tough. It was really tough. I was used to being at the top of my game physically. And then, you know, then I was paralyzed from the neck down. And it was a tough adjustment. It was - at first it was kind of hard to look in the mirror, even.

SHAPIRO: He says the fact that he was not injured on the battlefield makes it harder. He didn't get a medal for his injuries, no Purple Heart or anything like that. Noah Currier says the memorial is especially poignant for him because it honors all disabled veterans. Army veteran Joseph Bacani was shot through the pelvis by a sniper in Iraq. He has a special attachment to this memorial. His image is on a glass panel. It shows him in a wheelchair just after he received his Purple Heart.

JOSEPH BACANI: When I was taking that photo I had, like, a few things on my mind. I wanted this photographer to hurry and take my photo. And I wanted - I wanted to get back to my platoon in Iraq, actually. And I wanted to be able to walk again, be able to still continue to serve my country.

SHAPIRO: After a lot of physical therapy, Joseph Bacani was able to walk again. But he could never return to the battlefield. He enrolled at Columbia University where he's studying psychology. He wants to research PTSD and veterans.

As for the Memorial, Bacani says he's still wrapping his mind around the fact that his face is now etched in history. During the Iraq War, soldier Eric Millette hit by 17 improvised explosive devices. The last explosion gave him a traumatic brain injury, a spinal cord injury, a knee injury, and it ended his career. But Millette says the psychological injuries lasted the longest.

ERIC MILLETTE: My physical wounds had healed and I was battling these wounds that nobody could see. I had scars that nobody could see. And I didn't understand them. And I didn't think anybody else could understand them. So I was very isolated, depressed. There were lots of thoughts of suicide, lots of attempts.

SHAPIRO: Millette is glad the memorial honors veterans suffering from psychological as well as physical injuries. And he says it's a reminder.

MILLETTE: Before we send our brave men and women, our sons and daughters, our mothers and fathers off to war, we have to be ready as a nation, as a country, as a people to take care of them when they come back.

SHAPIRO: The American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial opens to the public today. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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