Army veteran Jason Brunson has a haunted look about him.
Earlier this year, Brunson was discharged from the Army on medical grounds because of injuries he sustained in Iraq. Now he and his family are struggling to pay the bills on the disability checks he receives every month.
"As a man," Brunson says, "it's embarrassing, because at one point in time, I could support my family on my own."
The Veterans Administration says Brunson is 70 percent disabled. He has post-traumatic stress disorder, among other medical problems. He and his wife, Ellen, live with their two children and their son's fiancee in St. Augustine, Fla.
When Jason was in the Army, he earned $3,600 a month. Now, the family lives on less than half of that. After they pay for Jason's medical costs, the bills and the rent, they have about $9 left. Jason's wife, Ellen, said she considered moving the family in with her mother before she found help from nonprofit organizations that help veterans and their families. So far, the family says, it has received about $7,000 in financial assistance from the groups. They don't usually get cash, though — the checks go directly to the Brunsons' creditors.
Despite the financial straits they're in, the Brunsons say they are determined to celebrate Christmas. The house is covered with Christmas lights, and the front lawn features a show of two glowing reindeer and three crosses.
"I'm not going to be unhappy," Ellen Brunson says, "and cry and act like a scrooge because we don't have any money. I'm going to make it happy for my son, no matter what we have to do."