06/01/2012 09:28 am ET Updated Jul 31, 2012

The Quest for Independence

Cindy Parsons gets a visible lump in her throat as she thinks about the future.

"What's going to happen to my son?" she asks to anyone willing to listen. "What's going to happen to Shane? That's my biggest fear. What happens to Shane when something happens to me."

Cindy is the primary caregiver for her son, Shane, who sacrificed both his legs and suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) while serving in Iraq. She knows Shane needs continual, long-term rehabilitative care, and without her around, Shane's future becomes a very scary prospect.

Cindy said families are all too often told by the VA that it can no longer provide a particular service because the veteran is not making significant progress. In February Cindy was told that Shane's ongoing speech therapy would not continue because Shane had met his limit.

"Devastation would be putting it mildly," Cindy said of families receiving that news.

She knows firsthand that the rehabilitation process is a life-long road best traveled with patience. The TBI Shane incurred from the roadside bomb attack in Baghdad in 2006 left him with an array of cognitive issues, including the inability to read, count money, and understand road signs.

Five years of learning how to read again are paying off, albeit slowly. Shane now has the ability to read at the first-grade level, locate exit signs and fire-safety instructions in buildings, and distinguish between green lights and red lights to safely cross a street.

Cindy, who lost her husband to brain cancer when Shane was only six months old, recalls her son being independent at a young age.

"He was so desperate to be independent," Cindy said. "He was probably four years old, and he used to say, 'Let me do it, Mom. Let me do it, Mom.'"

Years later he found himself doing more and more through football and wrestling in junior high and high school. He would have made a great coach, Cindy says, and one day he wanted to work in law enforcement.

Those dreams haven't ended, because Shane had been getting the rehabilitative care he deserves. The dreams are, however, now on hold.

"He feels very independent when he can carry some money in his pocket, count it, and pay for a pack of gum on his own, knowing he wasn't short-changed," Cindy said.

She recalled a recent proud evening when Shane wanted to order pizza, meet the delivery person at the door, and provide him with the correct change.

"It made him feel very independent and in control," she said.

Those accomplishments and feelings are only possible through time and with dedicated "veteran-centered" attention that allows for ongoing rehabilitative care.

Through these individualized plans and services, it is possible to foster independent living skills and social interaction among veterans, allowing them to participate in meaningful community settings.

"Shane is a perfect example that rehabilitation works, and it has changed his life and my life," Cindy says.