"Imagine this is you."
The words have barely appeared on screen, over footage of what seems to be an American military convoy, when there's an explosion. "Your life is changed forever" the text reads, over images of two soldiers carrying a wounded comrade, followed by a picture of two artificial legs and a cane. "How long should you have to wait before the country you served provides the help it promised?"
They fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, and now they're facing a different kind of enemy at home: the government's frequently shocking delays in processing veterans' disabilities claims. One frustrated advocacy group—Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America—has put together a new interactive tool to show the American public that "behind every piece of data is a person."
The piece of data is this: The 1,768 veterans profiled on "The Wait We Carry" have waited an average of 546 days to get their benefits. The tool lets you narrow down the list by home state, conflict and other details. They can share their names, though many do not. The tool allows you to reach out to an individual veteran. And it lets veterans, in turn, share their stories. Post-traumatic stress disorder. Scarring. Burns. Shrapnel. Bad backs. Bad knees.
They aren't all horror stories—some veterans waited a relatively brief stretch.
But some are grim.
IAVA spotlighted Jonathan Goodman, who served in the Marines and did two tours in Iraq, earning a Purple Heart for wounds suffered in a suicide bomb blast in 2004. Come July 1, 2013, the Tulsa, Ok., resident will have waited a full year after filing a claim for traumatic brain injury, chronic migraines and other ailments.
The local VA hospital provides him with medical treatment, but the delay has left him taking extra work shifts while his wife puts in longer hours, IAVA said.
“It's sad to see so many veterans come back and apply for this disability benefits and then wait so long to get a response. It can send a lot of veterans into a downward spiral," said Goodman. “Veterans need to get the help they've earned. They shouldn't be put on the back burner."
Goodman, through IAVA, later added: "Getting the disability compensation would allow us to live a more normal life, allow me to focus on school, and let my wife cut back on her hours."
On June 4, the White House said President Barack Obama is "deadly serious" about wiping out the massive backlog in veterans' disability benefits claims by 2015.
The problem predates Obama's arrival in office. But solutions have been slow in coming. In early June, according to IAVA figures, 865,265 veterans had disability claims pending with Veterans Affairs as of May 25. And 575,825 had been waiting for at least 125 days. It's an issue that has attracted attention from various quarters—including a devastating report from "The Daily Show."
"The Wait We Carry" recalls the Veterans Administration motto, pulled from Abraham Lincoln's second inaugural address, in which he affirmed the nation's duty "to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan."