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Family hunts for answers to Iraq war veteran's invisible wounds

BATTLE CREEK, Mich. (NEWSCHANNEL 3) - A Battle Creek veteran is recovering Thursday night, and is finally getting the care he needs after a decade of misdiagnosis.

Gunnery Sergeant Nick Avery served in Iraq, and when he came back he--like many other veterans--was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

In the ten years since, however, his condition deteriorated so much that he lost the ability to care for himself.

Newschannel 3 looked into the story behind Gunnery Sergeant Avery's invisible wounds, and the revelation that finally has him on the road to recovery.

Gunnery Sergeant Avery's family is paying $1,000 a day out of pocket for his care, because they say he wasn't receiving the attention and treatment he needed at the VA Hospital, and they say it's all worth it, after just learning the trauma that sent him on the downward spiral.

The 48-year-old Avery is now dependent on the care of others, with his condition unexpectedly declining since 2009.

"I want to see Nick at peace in his life; I want him to know that he's happy. I don't want him to live in torment and terror to have flashbacks," Avery's sister Jill Kellogg said.

The family tells us he wasn't the same after serving 6 months in Iraq, and was being treated for PTSD.

"It was like there was a guard up," his mother Elaine Avery said. "He did do some talking about the war, but it was very surface level."

His family says they never thought that a decade later it would come to this, though.

"It just makes you so sad to see where he is at; he is declining and you are desperate, and saying 'What can I do for my son?'" Elaine said.

Sgt. Avery started losing motor skills about three years ago, and found himself unable to spell and add at work.

"His big motto was, 'I want my mind back,'" Elaine said.

His mother took over full-time care until they turned to a VA nursing home for treatment.

"He was just walking the halls," Elaine said. "He was being taken care of, but there was no stimulation or follow through."

"As a nurse, I was mortified with what I found," Kellogg said. "Nick had sores on his body, on his buttock, he had breakdown on his feet; they smelled like urine."

The last three years have been full of questions.

"No one could ever tell us what Nick had; what was wrong with him," Kellogg said.

They had a mis-diagnosis of Alzheimer's, and even had a doctor who they say accused Sgt. Avery of faking his condition.

It wasn't until his family went to a brain specialist in Virginia that things changed.

"A physician found his service records, went through them, realized Nick had been exposed to 5 IED blasts," Kellogg said. "The blasts are so big that the airwaves--it's nothing like the bombs before in other wars--they are so strong they rattle the brain and skull."

The untreated traumatic brain injury had worn on Sgt. Avery, and the VA Hospital was unable to give him the acute care he needed in the long-term.

This July, Avery's family checked him into a center for specialized treatment.

"He laughs, he smiles; he is saying more words. He regressed when he was in the VA nursing home," Kellogg said.

In just the past few months, they say they've seen big changes.

"It lightens our heart to know we will see our son again," Elaine said.

A big "Fight For Nick Fundraiser" is being held for Avery on Saturday to help cover the cost of his care.

That will be at the American Legion in Climax, starting at 4:00 p.m.

Tickets are just $7, which includes dinner.

Click here for Part 2 of this story.