NEW ORLEANS -- The men and women veterans coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan are filing for disability benefits at the highest rate in U.S. history.
Forty-five percent are seeking claims. That's double the rate from the Gulf War in the 1990s.
At Monday's Memorial Day gatherings, wounded veterans of the past talked about their experience with getting benefits. People in the packed Fleet Reserve Association hall in Gretna stood to salute the flag and sing the Star-Spangled Banner.
These veterans came home a generation or two ago with unforgettable experiences.
"We were being shot at when a Viet Cong with an M79 grenade launcher, and it is frightful when you hear those things coming in, and there was an explosion. I didn't know where I was," said James Tompson.
He is a marine and a Vietnam veteran who was awarded the Purple Heart when his arm was injured. Four years ago he filed for disability benefits for a brain condition. He is still waiting.
"Especially when it comes to PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and either anything, it seems to be taking an awfully long time for the VA to sort it out," said Tompson.
Another marine was also awarded the Purple Heart for injuries in Korea.
"I was wounded in the neck here. It just missed my spinal cord by just a little bit. Just missed my aorta," said Don Lassere.
He said he is being treated fairly by the benefits system.
Another Vietnam Navy veteran was injured volunteering for a mission in 1966 in the Dominican Republic rescuing Americans. While running amidst rebel gun fire, he fell and injured his back and leg.
"The chief had asked for volunteers to go take the American people off the island, and I was on one of those LSTs (landing ship tank) and I volunteered. And while I was running out there, the rebels were shooting at us. I fell and I hurt myself," said Jerry Forstater.
He has mixed feelings about his disability benefits experience.
"Going to the VA Hospital is the roughest part," said Forstater. "There's a lot of red tape. Ma'am, you got to go to so many different doctors and you got to fill out so many affidavits, so many reports, just to get your disability. But it was worth it in the long run."
Vietnam veterans claimed fewer than four ailments, but Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are claiming eight to 14 ailments.
What seems to be behind this increase in claims are three things: There is a weak economy, more and more service men and women are surviving their injuries, and finally, there is much more of an awareness of brain illness such as concussions and post traumatic stress disorder.
Now the Department of Veterans Affairs has a backlog of new claims, but say it's mission is to take care of them all.
More than 560,000 veterans from all wars still have claims that are backlogged longer than four months.