Civilian contractors have been an indispensable part of the U.S. war effort in Iraq and Afghanistan, but they have returned home without the support available for troops in uniform.

Tens of thousands of civilians have worked in the two battle zones, delivering fuel, protecting diplomats and translating for troops, among other jobs. They have faced the same dangers that soldiers have: Hundreds -- both Americans and foreign nationals -- have died, and thousands more have been injured.

Their problems have long been ignored, and those problems are significant: Injured civilian contractors depend on workers' compensation insurance paid for by the federal government, but they often must fight with insurers like AIG to get medical bills paid. Mental trauma and suicide have taken a heavy toll. And for interpreters and other foreign workers in the U.S. war effort, an insurance program funded by American taxpayers was supposed to provide a safety net, but the benefits have fallen far short of what was promised.

Officials in the Pentagon, the Labor Department and Congress have begun talking about ways to take better care of these civilians, who return home as war veterans in all but name. As one injured contractor said, "It's almost like we're this invisible, discardable military."