For hundreds of local veterans who return from action, the fight is often far from over. Many face a much different battle when they come home. "That's what's left, and that's what saved my kidneys,” Andy Karnes says, indicating a multi-purpose tool in his hands. If it wasn’t clipped to his belt one day in 2004, he might not be alive today. Karnes was a U.S. sergeant in Iraq — going door-to-door in search of insurgents when his team came under attack. He survived, but not without injury. "Got shot in the back, the butt, the arm, and on top of the head," he said. Four months later, he came home — his tour of duty finished, where a new battle was about to begin. "Wasn't too happy," he said. The Army told Karnes he'd have to return. He says it took months and an army of medical paperwork to prove he wasn't well enough to go back. And he says it took at least three doctor visits and a year and a half to get his disability benefits. In a CBS News investigation earlier this year, veterans advocates said the U.S. government faces a backlog of a million veterans benefits claims that haven't been processed, with many men and women waiting months and years to get them. Still, despite all the delays today, Vietnam vets say the system is light years better than it was when they came home. "I knew something had changed in my life when I came back from Vietnam. I just didn't know what it was," said veteran Joe Swift. Swift says his problem was tinnitus (or ringing of the ears) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but he wouldn't get the diagnoses for more than thirty years. Gary whitehead can sympathize. A Vietnam vet himself, he now serves as the Elkhart County Veteran's Service Officer — a liaison who helps veterans file benefits with the VA. "We had nothing. Guys were coming home, they'd go to the VA [and hear] ‘Wah, wah, wah, wah, wah, quit crying. Go home and get a job and go to work. Quit belly-aching. Suck it up, dude.’ And now the VA has learned we can't do that,” said Whitehead. Whitehead says today things aren't perfect, but they've improved. Soldiers go through debriefings that include physicals and psychological evaluations. They're offered group therapy, and more benefits than ever before — A relief for Joe Swift. "To find out there is treatment available, and when you get in these support groups and you talk to other veterans that are your age, and younger, and older we realize we're all in it together,” he said. “It's the same thing. It's just a different little space in time." Today, Karnes is a full-time college student studying public safety. His tuition and books are paid for through the GI Bill. Despite his frustration over all the bureaucratic red tape, if given the chance to go back in time, Karnes says he'd do it again. "I would do it again. Joining the Army was the greatest thing for me in my life. The greatest thing I've ever done. It was, by far, the greatest decision I've ever made and it made me who I am today." Each county has a veteran’s service officer to help veterans see what they may qualify for through the federal government. Last year, the Department of Veterans Affairs said it was working to hire and train new claims processors to speed up the benefits process. By 2012, it hopes to have a new system in place for the VA and the Pentagon to electronically exchange records. That is currently done manually.