WASHINGTON (MarketWatch.com)—Question: I’ve just come back from Afghanistan. I’m one of the wounded vets you don’t hear too much about. The media is full of stories about my fellow soldiers who have been killed, but those like me, now confined to a wheelchair for the rest of my life, seem to be forgotten. The reason I am writing is that I am having difficulty find a suitable residence for me and my family. Can you help? S.B., Fort Collins, Tex.
Answer: Despite its own problems, the housing industry is making an effort to help severely injured G.I. Joes and Janes like you who are having a tough time finding homes to fit their special needs when they return from the Middle East.
There are numerous instances in which housing interests are giving back. For example, Chase, the banking affiliate of J.P. Morgan Chase and Co., recently announced it is donating 100 houses from its inventory of foreclosed properties to wounded warriors.
GMAC Mortgage and lender NewDay USA have each donated a single home. The National Association of Home Builders’ Building Systems Council is building a house for a disabled vet in North Carolina. And another NAHB affiliate, the Home Builders Institute, is turning its attention toward training the troops returning from the Middle East in the various construction trades.
Operation Finally Home has built 17 houses from scratch for wounded and disabled vets and widows of servicemen killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan, and 22 more are in the pipeline—nine already under way and 13 getting ready to start.
I learned about Operation Finally Home at the home builders’ convention in February. It was founded several years ago by Dan Wallrath, a now semiretired custom builder in the Houston area who was asked by a friend to visit with a family whose son was coming home from Iraq with severe brain injuries.
After showing the builder a photo of his son before the injury, the father then showed him a picture of his 20-year-old boy in his wheelchair. The father was torn between remodeling his house or placing his son in a nursing home for the rest of his life.
“It just broke my heart. I had to do something,” recalls Wallrath, who persuaded his local builders association to rehab the family’s home at no charge.
Wallrath was moved by the plight of a single vet. But there are thousands more like that soldier who, in conflicts 20 to 30 years ago, might not have survived their injuries.
You’re correct: Most news reports focus on the 5,000 troops who have lost their lives in the War on Terrorism, many leaving behind husbands, wives and children. But what is rarely reported is that nearly 47,500 have been wounded in action, according to the Defense Department. And of those, some 1,500 have lost limbs.
“I just took it for granted that these young men were taken care of for the rest of their lives because of what they’ve done for us,” Wallrath said. “I just assumed that.”
But they’re not. In fact, a veteran is 50% more likely to be homeless than the average American, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Worse, HUD reports, one in six homeless people is a veteran.
With J.R. Martinez, the severely burned Army vet who went on to a role in daytime television and win ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars,” as the nonprofit’s spokesman, Operation Finally Home is now active in eight states—Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Montana, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Tennessee—and hopes to expand.