Making Housing More Accessible for Many of America’s Returning Vets
The cost of military service is high for those who return disabled — whether that disability is physical or mental.
An astounding number of veterans return home from service in need of extreme help. According to the Census Bureau, 3.6 million veterans in the U.S. were living with a service-connected disability in 2013. Severe injuries can include loss of limbs and other severe physical problems, as well as emotional suffering incurred from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI).
These disabilities can interfere with daily living and make everyday activities challenging. In addition, many veterans are living in homes that do not accommodate their disabilities — for example, those requiring wheelchairs to get around. Some may be homeless or unable to purchase a home that can be adapted to meet their physical or psychological needs.
John Gallina and Dale Beatty have firsthand knowledge of these challenges. Gallina and Beatty were friends growing up in North Carolina. They joined the National Guard in 1996 and were subsequently deployed to serve in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In November 2004, while they were working together on a mission to provide security for an engineer unit that was sweeping an area for land mines, their vehicle struck two anti-tank mines, leaving Beatty an amputee below both knees and Gallina with severe back injuries, TBI, and PTSD.
As they recuperated and reintegrated back into their communities, they faced housing challenges. In particular, Beatty, a double amputee, required a home that would enable him to get around in a wheelchair. Gallina, a former construction professional, joined others in the community to build a wheelchair-accessible home for Beatty and his family.
Beatty and Gallina soon realized a lot of other returning veterans also needed help, so in 2008 the pair co-founded Purple Heart Homes to provide housing solutions for qualified service-connected disabled veterans.
For veterans who own a home that does not meet their physical needs, Purple Heart Homes helps to facilitate renovations, creating safe, barrier-free living environments. Purple Heart Homes also adds additional space to make sure needs are met at no cost to the veterans. The organization does this with the help of communities that embrace residents and offer the assistance they need, and companies that encourage employees to volunteer, donate, and help do the work.
Funding for approved projects is raised by Purple Heart Homes and the participating communities through donations of money, labor, and materials.
For those veterans who do not own a home, Purple Heart Homes helps them obtain newly renovated or modified homes through its Veterans Homeownership Program (VHOP). With the help of banks, large corporations, and other generous supporters, Purple Heart Homes has acquired donated homes. Veterans who meet the program requirements have the opportunity to obtain a mortgage and own one of these homes at no more than 50 percent of the appraised value.
Helping house veterans in affordable ways is key to the mission of Purple Heart Homes. A home is more than a place to live, the founders note. It is a place that offers an individual or a family permanence along with personal and financial well-being. It is, for disabled veterans, a place to heal.
“It’s our way to say thank you for their service, and to accomplish our mission to improve veterans’ lives one home at a time,” says Gallina.
Sandra Lee is a young woman who is 80 percent service-connected disabled. Along with TBI and military sexual trauma, she suffers from severe PTSD that includes short-term memory problems, constant headaches, vertigo, debilitating nightmares, and depression.
When Lee returned to the U.S., the community of Manchester, NH, donated a small house, and Purple Heart Homes, working with volunteers living in Manchester, renovated and added onto the home. This provided Lee and her service dog the space needed for comfort as well as the ability to deal with her disabilities.
When construction was completed, Lee worked through a Purple Heart Homes’ partnership with a credit union to obtain a mortgage, and although she had a relatively low credit score and some debt, Purple Heart Homes’ VHOP provided her the ability to obtain an affordable mortgage and achieve homeownership.
Today, Lee is working on a master’s degree in holistic health and hopes to help other disabled veterans with PTSD. “I am grateful to Purple Heart Homes for all that they did for me,” says Lee. “I never thought I would be able to be a homeowner. My community of Manchester and Purple Heart Homes made a dream come true.”