“Not only has he served his country, but he’s also come back and become an advocate for other veterans,” Sanchez added. Acosta, a Santa Fe Springs resident, was the guest of honor Saturday at a special fundraising event for the Los Angeles Larry Amaya Chapter of the American GI Forum. On Friday, he was issued the Purple Heart for his sacrifice while in combat abroad. Local GI Forum commander Fernando Del Rio said Acosta is a prime example of the need for more recognition of today’s war veterans. “He exemplifies the current problems in Iraq,” Del Rio said. “We have to make people aware that the Iraq war is a very serious situation. The casualties are high, and he \ is one of our disabled.” More than 23,000 troops have been seriously wounded – and about 3,400 have been killed – in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to officials. Army reservist and medic Paul T. Nakamura, also of Santa Fe Springs, was killed in Iraq on June 19, 2003, after a rocket-propelled grenade hit his ambulance while he tended to wounded soldiers. Nakamura is the city’s only citizen to be fatally wounded while on duty. Many service members have lost their lives abroad, Acosta said, but attention and support also needs to be given to those who survive and return to the U.S. “I always wanted to be a soldier. I always wanted to wear the uniform and stand by my flag,” Acosta said. But losing his eyesight has been “one of the most catastrophic injuries” any soldier can get. “There are service men and women that are coming home, and people don’t always know how to take care of us,” he stressed. Veterans are often susceptible to post-traumatic stress syndrome, for example, or they may endure physical injuries that need specialized attention, according to officials. “They come back, they don’t have jobs, they’re wounded and they’re sick,” added Jake Alarid, a board member for the Department of Veterans Affairs. “We have to take care of that.” Sanchez said providing adequate services to war veterans has been an ongoing struggle. Lack of funding and resources, and sometimes a lack of awareness or understanding, have come in the way of veterans’ accessing appropriate services. The congresswoman hopes veterans like Acosta will help bridge the gap and offer a semblance of hope to other veterans. “His story is an incredible one,” Sanchez said. “He could have come back and become bitter, but he’s come back with a renewed sense to help others.” [email protected] (562) 698-0955, Ext. 3024160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! • Photo Gallery: Purple Heart Ceremony SANTA FE SPRINGS – Decorated armed forces veterans joined elected officials at the local American GI Forum chapter this weekend to honor an area soldier. U.S. Army Sgt. Jesse Acosta, 49, had been left completely blind after he was caught in a bomb blast in Iraq on Jan. 16, 2006. Officials recently caught wind of Acosta’s story, and now they wanted to recognize him for his heroism. “We are honoring one of the finest who has served his country,” said Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Lakewood.