"I was home, but mentally I was still in Iraq."
Shane Anderson, 40, will never forget watching the horror.
"I was sitting in my living room watching as the towers fell on 9/11, and I knew I'd be going to war."
Anderson joined the Army Reserves just six months earlier to serve his country, set a good example for his young son Kristian and help his family financially.
Anderson's predictions held true. In August 2005, he was deployed to Iraq after training at Fort Bliss.
"I remember arriving in Mosul thinking, 'I'm going to die,' " Anderson described. "I signed up to be a mechanic, but they put me in the gunner's seat. Nothing—no amount of training—could have prepared me for it."
Several months into his deployment, he was involved in a serious accident.
"I was in a convoy, and a truck ahead of me slammed on his brakes. My neck hyperextended. I heard a snap and felt the heat coming down my body," he said. "My vertebra was sheared down the middle."
In all, Anderson will tell you he spent "11 months, three weeks and four days in Iraq."
"More than 200 missions later, I had experienced it all … sniper bullets, mortar attacks, you name it," he said.
When Anderson came home in 2006, there was a new war afoot.
"My house had been foreclosed on. Our savings were gone, and my credit was destroyed," he said. "My wife and son were living with my parents."
The injury left Anderson in constant pain, and he was suffering from severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
"I was home, but mentally I was still in Iraq," he said. "I mounted cameras in my parent's yard for surveillance and rarely left the basement. I wasn't sleeping at all. Truth is, I came back a broken person."
Then, things turned even worse.
"My marriage fell apart, and both of my parents died within a couple years of each other," he said.
After his divorce, Anderson hit rock bottom and found himself living in his car for months.
"I would try and find a park to pull into during the cold nights," he said. "It was pretty rough."
His girlfriend Meghan Hunter could see he was on a downward spiral and got in touch with the VA and VFW.
Mark Lamb, VFW Utah Service Officer, jumped in to help. Because Anderson was homeless, Lamb insisted the VA expedite his claim for 100% Individual Unemployability.
"I'll never forget the day Mr. Lamb called with the news that my claim was approved." Anderson said. "I woke up the next day, and still couldn't believe it. This program changed my life."
Today, Anderson is living in a small apartment and taking his recovery one day at a time.
Hunter is eternally grateful for the "amazing support."
"I feel like we have a future now," she said, holding back tears. "We feel so blessed. I wish every soldier were so lucky."
"My life is more comfortable," Anderson echoed with gratitude. "I go to the VA a lot, and I've met many Vietnam veterans who are helping me through. Although they weren't in my war, they were in war. They're some of my best friends."
For all his sacrifice and pain, Anderson resists the title of hero.
"I'm just like anybody else," he said. "I did my duty."
Sean P Eagan
Former Chairman American Cold War Veterans