Marine Lost Arms, Legs; Wife Tells Lawmakers of Long-Term Cost of War

ABC News’ Arlette Saenz ( @arlettesaenz ) reports:

Crystal Nicely, the wife of one of three surviving quadruple amputees in the Marine Corps, put a face to the long term costs of war by sharing her experiences navigating the system as a non-medical attendant for her husband.

“For me, I'm not only my husband's caregiver, non medical attendant, appointment scheduler, cook, driver and groomer, but I'm also his loving wife faced with my own stresses and frustrations,” Nicely said at a hearing before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. “To be clear this is not an issue of being overwhelmed with caring for my husband, but what is upsetting is the lack of support, compassion and benefits for these individuals. It needs to be just a little bit easier.”

Her husband, Marine Cpl. Todd Nicely, lost both arms and both legs when he was hit by an IED during a foot patrol in Helmand province in Afghanistan in 2010. Since his injury, he has spent a year recovering at Walter Reed and has received prosthetics, which enable him to be a little more independent, even recently being able to drive.

“It has been a long journey since that day in the early 2010 and you would think that it would be easy for someone to lose hope and motivation after such a catastrophic injury, but my husband has been a fighter since day one. In recovery, he displayed the same irresistible warrior spirit for which the marines are so beloved,” Crystal Nicely said.

But the Nicely couple has confronted red tape throughout their time at Walter Reed as they’ve struggled with mounting medical expenses, delayed paperwork, and slowly trained warrior unit personnel. Cpl. Nicely waited 70 days for doctor to complete a medical summary for his disability review, which delayed his release from Walter Reed and retirement from the military.

The CBO estimates the medical costs associated with the Veterans Health Administration’s treatment of veterans from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq could total between $40 billion and $55 billion over the next ten years.

As Congress and the president debate over the debt ceiling, servicemembers and veterans are worried about the economic impact they will face if the nation defaults.

“Right now, our nation teeters on the edge of default and servicemembers and veterans are left concerned and a bit scared,” Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America said. “They don't know what's going to happen August 1 st. They don't know what's going to happen September 1 st. They don't know if disability checks are coming. They don't know if paychecks are coming. They don't know if GI checks are coming and they're extremely concerned. They're scared.”

Rieckhoff said members from the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America met with officials at the White House yesterday but did not receive guidance on how veterans and service members would be directly affected, and Rieckhoff called on Congress to look for ways to prevent a default from occurring.

“Incredible frustration, just devastating disappointment, and it's become demoralizing, not even from folks just here stateside, but overseas. There's a guy at a checkpoint in Afghanistan right now who doesn't know for certain what's going to happen to him and his family in thirty days. That is ridiculous, and it is outrageous, and our members are beyond upset.”

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said veterans benefits should be non-negotiable in the budget negotiations.

“There is no question that we need to make smart decisions to tighten our belts and reduce our nation's debt and deficit, but no matter what fiscal crisis we face, no matter how divided we may be over approaches to cutting our debt and deficit, no matter how heated the rhetoric in Washington, D.C. gets, we must remember that we cannot balance our budget at the expense of the healthcare and benefits our veterans have earned. Their sacrifices have been too great. They have done everything that has been asked of them. They have been separated from their families through repeat deployments. They have sacrificed life and limb in combat and they have done all of this selflessly and with honor to our country and the commitment we have to them is non-negotiable,” Murray said.

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