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Archive for the ‘Disabled Veterans’ Category

“I took a leap of faith and joined the Air Force.”

That’s how Dominick Griego describes his decision to serve. He had entered college, trying to balance the demands of a young family, college and a job. But he needed healthcare and a constant paycheck. So he enlisted.

Little did he know that decision would impact his family in ways he never imagined.

“The beauty of joining the Air Force was that I was also afforded the opportunity to see the world.” After training at two locations in Texas, he was stationed in Italy with his wife, Cecilia. “Italy was amazing,” said Dominick. “Both of my girls were born there.”

After Italy, the family was stationed in New Jersey for seven years. Dominick had seven deployments during his thirteen years of service. “I was gone a lot,” said Dominick. “It was a trying factor on my family, especially the girls. But we faced every opportunity and challenge thanks to my wonderful wife.”

dom-griego-9During Dominick’s last deployment to Afghanistan, he was hurt. At first, there was just the close call…Dominick was checking on an infrastructure in an area known as “Rocket City” when an IDF mortar blew up outside the chow hall. But three weeks later in Kabul, Dominick and his operations team were driving to another location when a suicide bomber drove into them. Dominick and his team ended up five feet away from 500-pound bomb.

“We ended up inside an attack and were under heavy fire,” said Dominick. “I passed out and when I came to, we were engaged by an enemy in the city. Fortunately, we were able to fight back and maneuver tactically. There were six of us and all six survived and returned home with minimal injuries. Sometimes you get lucky. I was stubborn and didn’t seek medical treatment. I stumbled around in country before ending up in hospital. They told me to make sure I rested my brain.”

Dominick decided to stay on in Afghanistan for six months. He was assigned to a task force looking for corruption and fraud. Six months turned into 13 months. Finally, in July 2014, he returned to the states. Dominick received a Purple Heart for his bravery and courage in the attacks in Kabul.

Despite his injuries, and the fact that Dominick had recently been diagnosed with cancer and underwent surgery, Dominick reenlisted in the Air Force for another term in January 2016. He deals with traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress, and PTSD sleep deprivation.

Dominick was a Portraits in Courage honoree and attended an awards ceremony at the Pentagon. While he was there, he met one of our Operation Homefront staff members. Dominick’s wife took a business card.

When the Griego family’s heat and AC unit stopped working efficiently, the family recalled their chance meeting with Operation Homefront and filled out an application for assistance—Dominick didn’t believe the family would qualify. “I didn’t think that I was a candidate for help because you can’t see my injuries,” said Dominick. “Sometimes I am also in denial about my injuries.”

“The original heating unit was oil and the new unit is natural gas,” said Cecilia. “We all have allergies which was sometimes aggravated by the oil heat and it dried us out. This is different heat. We no longer have stress from worrying about fixing it. There is no way we could have done this without Operation Homefront’s help.”

dom-griego-2“I am at home a lot,” said Dominick. “What you guys did was amazing. Because of my health, I had no motivation to mentally or physically address the AC issue. The lack of efficient heat and AC made the situation more miserable as I was recovering from surgeries and chemo.”

“A lot of people tell me thank you for your service,” said Dominick. “Because my wounds are not visible, people don’t understand. But to say thank you and then do something like your donors do to say thanks—to blindly give. That gesture is beyond words. What you and your donors do justifies and reinstates the reason why I serve and wear the uniform and would do anything to protect.”

Join in the conversation with us as we celebrate those veterans among us, by sharing stories of your own. Through Facebook or Twitter, please use the hashtag to share your own inspirational story of a veteran in your life

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devin-peterson-pic-2Yvette Peterson was nervous when she and her husband, Devin, decided to move. They had been living in her hometown of El Paso, Texas, and she had never lived far from her family. However, she and Devin both felt that it was time to move to Devin’s hometown of Fayetteville, North Carolina.

“I was excited to be near his family and near my sister in Raleigh, but I was scared to live so far away from Texas,” Yvette said. “We were all scared. My kids didn’t want to leave their friends.”

On top of the emotional anxieties surrounding the move, Devin and Yvette were really worried about finding a place in Fayetteville once they got there. They were also struggling to meet their hefty car payments, all the while caring for their three children.

Devin served in the Army for nine years and was deployed to Iraq twice. Because of injuries he sustained while he was serving, he was medically retired from the military and no longer works.

With all of this looming over their heads and Devin unable to get a job, Yvette started to do some research. She happened to stumble across Operation Homefront (OH) and the Emergency Assistance Program, which she realized could provide them with some financial help for their move.

While she was going through the process of applying for the financial assistance, she found out about the Homes on the Homefront (HOTH) program. HOTH provides mortgage-free housing to military veterans and their families. She applied for a home in North Carolina. “I was just thinking that there was no way we were going to get this house. There was no way,” he said, laughing.

Much to Devin’s surprise, though, the Peterson’s were awarded the house before they even moved to North Carolina. Knowing that they were going to have a safe and comfortable home to live in once they got to North Carolina helped ease a lot of the stress of moving.

“The move was exciting but it was nerve-wracking at the same time,” Yvette said. “We were really excited that we would be receiving the HOTH home.”

The Peterson’s moved into their HOTH home on October 10, 2013, and have been deeply involved in Operation Homefront ever since. For the past two years, their kids have participated in the Back-to-School Brigade and received school supplies and new backpacks, giving Devin and Yvette a welcome break from the stress of provided for three young children.

Perhaps even more important than the financial relief OH has provided the Peterson’s is the emotional support that Yvette has found among the other military spouses. Last year, Yvette got to attend the Homefront Celebration, which gives military spouses an elegant night out, complete with a nice dinner and a guest speaker. Mainly, though, it gives military spouses the opportunity to get to know one another and to realize that they are not alone. Being a military spouse comes with a wide range of issues and difficulties, so attending this event gave Yvette the chance to make new friends who understand what it means to be married to a veteran.

Yvette has also found a more intimate support system among the women involved in her local Hearts of Valor group, which provides support for the family of injured veterans.

“The ladies in my group are amazing,” she said. “We’re really good friends. We’ll get together outside of the program and go get lunch or just spend time together. We had a couponing trip a couple of weeks ago!”

Just recently, Yvette actually became a peer group facilitator to help give other people the support they need to be a caregiver to an injured veteran.

Both Devin and Yvette know that without the help of Operation Homefront—between the mortgage-free home, the school supplies, and the emotional support—their lives would be very different. Because of that, they always want to give back.

“For me, personally, it’s important to show how grateful I am for receiving our HOTH home, and it’s a lot of fun,” Yvette said.

Yvette and her family volunteer for as many programs and events as they can get involved in. She also brings her oldest child, Amory, along to volunteer with her to instill in her the importance of being grateful and giving back.

“[Volunteering] also shows my kids, especially my oldest, that I give back, you know, not to be selfish, to volunteer your time and energy,” Yvette said.

Amory helps out with picking up school supplies from the local Dollar Trees and stuffing backpacks with the other volunteers for the Back-to-School Brigade.

“[Operation Homefront] is a really good organization that does great things for vets,” Devin said. “We help out with as much as we can. Everything we have we owe to Operation Homefront, so we try our best to give back as much as we can.”

Join in the conversation with us as we celebrate those veterans among us, by sharing stories of your own. Through Facebook or Twitter, please use the hashtag #11days11stories to share your own inspirational story of a veteran in your life.

 

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Part of the American dream has always been owning a home.

Operation Homefront’s mission is to build strong, stable, and secure military families so they can thrive, not simply struggle to get by, in the communities they have worked so hard to protect. For many military families, part of the American dream is home ownership in those very communities.

Fortunately, we have partners like Meritage Homes that see the need and, for the last four years, have stepped up to make a difference by providing newly built mortgage-free homes in locations around the U.S. In doing so, they have changed the lives of of some of our military and veteran families forever!

This year, those families include Army Sergeant Jonathan Acuna, his wife Jessica, and two daughters and Army Staff Sergeant Joseph Moncrief, his wife, Mollie and their two daughters. These families were selected to receive newly-built mortgage-free homes, one near Austin, TX and the other outside Phoenix, Arizona.

meritageblog2The Acuna family received their home yesterday and the Moncrief family received their home today. Certainly a Veterans Day to remember!

Born in Galveston and raised in Stockdale, Texas, Jonathan Acuna and his family will be moving into their first owned family home. Acuna served as a military police officer protecting the health and welfare of the military families at his designated post. He was awarded a Purple Heart for actions taken during a road side bomb explosion in Iraq in 2009, in which he sustained injuries that sent him back to the states for recovery. Those injuries eventually led to Acuna being medically retired with an honorable discharge in February 2016.

The 1,562 square-foot, three-bedroom home in Leander, Texas, will provide Acuna and his family an opportunity to complete their studies and pursue their passions. “It means everything to us,” said Acuna. “We don’t have to worry about where we are going to live next, and I am proud that my girls can call this their home.”

meritageblog4Joseph Moncrief was selected to receive a 2,278 square-foot home in Goodyear, Arizona. The three-bedroom home will provide his family with access to wonderful schools, financial security, and the opportunity to begin a college fund.

“It’s a dream that we have been wanting for a long time,” said Moncrief. “Thank you for being there for us — honestly. I was floored about what Meritage Homes provides for veterans and military families.”

We can’t say enough how proud we are to work together with partners like Meritage to help military and veteran families. Together we answer the call. Together, we are stronger – and our military and veteran families are stronger.

Join in the conversation with us as we celebrate those veterans among us, by sharing stories of your own. Through Facebook or Twitter, please use the hashtag #11days11stories to share your own inspirational story of a veteran in your life.

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Guest blog from Dr. Sara Boz, Senior Director of Operation Homefront’s Hearts of Valor program

Suicide is a complex and frightening topic.  In our community, it hits so close to home that our reaction tends to be denial. Suicide is a hard topic to open up about… but we can no longer ignore it. We have to talk about it.

There is a phrase that sunlight is the best disinfectant. We need to take the topic of suicide out of the shadows and talk openly.

When a caregiver or a veteran tells me their story about a failed suicide attempt, it normally goes like this:

“I probably would have succeeded in killing myself, if only…”

  • “If only the phone hadn’t rang.”
  • “If only I had more pills.”
  • “If only the ambulance had arrived a little later.”

When a person plans their suicide they make the very final decision to die before their time on Earth is over.  They no longer fear death and dying.  They are at the point at which they perceive death is better than their current situation.  Those who have tried tell me that they felt there was no other solution to their pain and suffering.  They feel hopeless and in a single, desperate moment… they find the will and the means.

“If only” there was something we could do.

Working with veterans and their caregivers as director of Operation Homefront’s Hearts of Valor program, I have talked with many families who face the challenge of healing from both the seen and unseen wounds of war.  There are some ways we can help create more “if only’s:”

  • We can work on being more aware of the people we care about.  KNOW that it’s okay to ask someone if they are feeling suicidal. If I notice that someone is giving up, feeling hopeless, or not themselves, I will ask how I can help.
  • Put yourself in others’ shoes. I’ve tried to imagine the different ways of taking one’s own life. Maybe I can’t fully grasp how someone is willing to accept the pain that will likely accompany suicide but I can try and see the path they took to get to that point. Could it be that veterans do not have a fear of death and dying because they were exposed to so much death during their combat tours?  Maybe they think that the pain they are experiencing, whether emotional or physical, is more than the pain they would feel through death.  Understanding the path may help us steer someone off of it at any point before the end.
  • It’s okay to be persistent. You would be hard pressed to find someone who thinks, “I did enough to prevent this.”  I have known a few people who have been successful in their suicide attempts.  I will always wonder if I could have done more and asked more questions. If a caregiver or veteran talks about suicide, I will not leave them alone. A few years ago, a caregiver called me to ask for a housing resource.  During the conversation she mentioned that her husband may be suicidal because of the situation they were in.  She explained that there were signs that he was giving up.  I listened to her story, asked a lot of questions, and told her I could help. In this instance, the caregiver was way ahead of me. She already had a plan to get him to a physician that week and had made the house safe and free of all weapons over the past few weeks.  She planned to drive her husband straight to the emergency room if the situation progressed.  I called her about a year later to see how she was doing and they are all now doing well. Which proves that there is always hope…such an important message to communicate to the person who wants to give up.

I believe that most people don’t want to die. I don’t want anyone to give up on their life.  There is no definite solution to preventing suicide, and the tragic fact is that someone will find a way if they are resolute enough.  But maybe, just maybe, we can take steps that will save one. And then another. And before we know it, we have saved more than we have lost.

September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. If you know of someone who may be suicidal, please refer them to the Veterans Crisis Line at 800-273-8255 and press “1” or go to https://www.veteranscrisisline.net/ for more information including how to identify the warning signs.

 

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Navy Hipsley full rez wcc operation homefront

Meet Hipsley!

It began with the need to do something.  To make a difference.

A dedicated group of volunteers with the Mid-Atlantic Field Office of Operation Homefront, concerned about the heartbreaking statistics surrounding veteran suicides, approached the Field Office staff with an idea. As part of their annual fundraising efforts, they wanted to support Operation Homefront – and support the training of a service dog for veterans recovering from physical and psychological wounds.

Though not a need addressed by Operation Homefront programs, the Operation Homefront Mid-Atlantic team knew they could help, as they are active in supporting the needs of families at Walter Reed and Warrior Transition Unit at Fort Belvoir. They also knew an organization that worked with service animals. And so began a unique partnership between Operation Homefront, the community, and the non-profit Warrior Canine Connection.

After 18 months of planning and fundraising solely by the volunteers with support from Operation Homefront, their wish became reality Wednesday as Operation Homefront presented Warrior Canine Connection with a check for $25,000 to cover the cost of training a puppy named Hipsley at Fort Belvoir.

Navy Hipsley full rez wcc operation homefront mom in memory

Jane Hipsley, herself a “puppy parent”, after learning that a puppy will carry on the name and legacy of her son, Sgt. Christian Hipsley.

Hipsley is named in honor of Army Sgt. Christian Joseph Hipsley, an Army medic who graduated from Hannah More Academy in Baltimore in 2000.  He was known as an individual who cared deeply for people and who found uncommon courage.  Sgt. Hipsley’s 13 years of service entailed three tours of duty in the Middle East, including Iraq, Afghanistan, and Kuwait.  Sgt. Hipsley was awarded the Bronze Star in 2011 for his efforts in saving five Afghan National Army soldiers after the caravan he was riding in was struck by consecutive IED blasts.  When the book was closed on his Army career, Sgt.  Hipsley had earned the Bronze Star with Combat Distinguished Valor and the Army Commendation Medal.  The soldier lost his battle with PTSD in 2014 at age 32.

Sgt. Hipsley’s mother, Jane, was in attendance as it was announced that a puppy would carry on the memory of her son by helping others.  Over the next 2 years, Hipsley and the other purpose-bred Golden and Labrador Retrievers will each empower 60 returning wounded combat Veterans. After this period, Hipsley will be permanently assigned.

margiwithpuppy

Margi Kirst, Chief Development Officer for Operation Homefront with the newest member of the military family.

 

“The beauty behind this is the connection between the community and donors who take the initiative to get involved, and the collaboration between non-profits.  It is the community coming together,” said Vivian Dietrich, Regional Director. “And at the end of the day, our mission of building strong stable and secure military families will be realized through the work of Hipsley with the Fort Belvoir families.”

Cyndi Lucas, Communications Outreach Leader for Operation Homefront Mid-Atlantic added, “It was unique opportunity to capture the passion of this group of volunteers. (Hipsley) will touch so many lives”

 

“We are extremely grateful to the enthusiastic group of volunteers from Operation Homefront’s Mid-Atlantic region who dedicated so much time and energy to raise the funds to train Hipsley at Fort Belvoir,” said Rick Yount, WCC founder and executive director. “In our work to serve more than 3,700 Veterans since WCC started, we have seen firsthand the effectiveness of animal-assisted therapy in combating symptoms of PTS and TBI.  We are fortunate to have partners, like Operation Homefront, who are equally committed to supporting our nation’s Veterans and their families.”

region4volunteers

Working together to make a difference: Operation Homefront National and MidAtlantic staff with the “REDS” team volunteers.

About Warrior Canine Connection: Warrior Canine Connection is a pioneering organization that utilizes a Mission Based Trauma Recovery model to empower returning combat Veterans who have sustained physical and psychological wounds while in service to our country. Based on the concept of Warriors helping Warriors, WCC’s therapeutic service dog training program is designed to mitigate symptoms of PTSD, TBI, and other challenges, while giving injured combat Veterans a sense of purpose, help in reintegrating back into their families and communities, and a potential career path as a service dog trainer.  For more information, go to www.warriorcanineconnection.org.

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“The fear of the unknown is kind of like the fog of war, we just didn’t know what was gonna happen or where we were going to end up,” Hector Perez, current resident at one of Operation Homefront’s rent-free transitional housing villages.

When an injured service member transitions out of military life, the unknown lies before them and it can be overwhelming. Complications from combat-related injuries, including physical wounds, Traumatic Brain Injuries or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, can add to the stress of the transition to civilian life. But there is help to be found.

Operation Homefront Villages provide rent-free housing in a supportive environment for transitioning military families that helps relieve financial stress and provide a comprehensive package of individualized family support and financial planning services. Since opening our first Village in March 2008, we have helped 453 families, which includes 724 military children, make the transition.

Listen to Hector Perez tell his  story about his family’s experience at our Village in San Diego. His own words  may  encourage others , while battling the effects of their injuries, to know that a better life can be found.

Hector has one message for his fellow  veterans: it’s okay to ask for help. “I would say that no matter how lonely you feel, how depressed you are or how bad things are now, to stop and think for a just one second. Remind yourself… that you are still in the fight. You have overcome many battles but now is the time to dig deep and bring out the warrior mentality and continue to fight for you, for your loved ones, for your family. (All) it takes (is) a phone call, a text, an email to reach out and realize you are not alone!”

Operation Homefront has Villages in three locations: Gaithersburg, Maryland; San Diego, California; and San Antonio, Texas. Since opening our first Village in March 2008, we have transitioned 453 families, which includes 724 military children.

June is PTSD Awareness Month. The National Center for PTSD provides valuable educational resources online for not only the person who battles PTSD but also for those family and friends that want to find more ways to support them. We encourage anyone with questions to use this resource to find more information and get the help you need.

Thank you to our friends at the Genentech Foundation for making this video possible.

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As he turns the key on his new home, Raphael Harris and his wife, Yesica, can see a new beginning and a fresh start. Not too long ago, they were once a family geographically separated and facing many financial and medical challenges. That was before they found out about our Operation Homefront Village.

RaphaelVillagesBlogRaphael is a military brat and grew up in South Carolina before his family moved to Alabama. After graduation, he decided to join the military and he became a Marine at age 17.

Raphael was first stationed in Okinawa, Japan, and then Camp Pendleton in California. During a deployment to Afghanistan, he was injured when an improvised explosive device caused the vehicle he was riding in to roll over. As a result of his injuries and trauma, Raphael was medically retired from the Marines after four years of service.

Transitioning out of the military can be difficult for anyone, and Raphael’s family was no exception. Raphael became friends with a service member who was also transitioning from the Marines. He told Raphael about Operation Homefront and how we offered rent-free transitional housing at our Operation Homefront Village in California. Raphael thought this might be a great solution for his family, so he put in an application, and was accepted into our program.

“Before coming to the Village, I was (away) from my wife, who was back in Alabama,” said Raphael. “We had a lot of debt.”

Our Village program provides rent-free, utilities paid, fully furnished apartments to wounded, injured, and ill veterans leaving the military. It is designed to enable families to heal together, while bridging the gap between military pay and veteran benefits.

While living at the Village, Raphael not only saved $15,000, but he was also able to reduce his debt by $15,000. “This is an amazing program which helped fill in the gaps during my transition and helping me to be more stable,” added Raphael. “I would recommend it to anyone who is qualified to apply.”

Raphael has since graduated from our Village program. Recently, he and his wife were able to realize a dream and bought a home in San Antonio, Texas. He continues his care at the VA and is going back to school where he will pursue a master’s degree that allows him to counsel wounded warriors with severe post-traumatic stress.

As with the Harris family, when veterans graduate from our Village program, they will have VA benefits in place, debt significantly reduced, and emergency savings available.

“In 2015, Operation Homefront served 111 military families through our transitional housing program,” said Senior Director of Transitional Housing Gracie Broll. “Our goal at Operation Homefront is to ensure our military families remain strong, stable, and secure throughout transition from military to civilian life. We do this by walking hand-in-hand with each family while providing them with the tools and resources needed for success.”

While the Harris family has settled into their new home and new beginnings, their story can inspire other families who are still in transition.

HectorVillagesBlogRetired U.S. Marine Sergeant Hector Perez deployed multiple times to Iraq and Afghanistan during his term of service. On a deployment to Afghanistan, “A road side bomb detonated and hit my vehicle and I was injured – spinal cord injuries, neural damage to my left leg and left eye, and some TBI and PTSD as well,” he said.

Like many in his situation, Hector was caught off guard and struggled to make ends meet during the transition process. Hector heard about our Operation Homefront Village from his recovery care coordinator and applied. He moved into the new Operation Homefront Village in San Diego, which celebrated its Grand Opening in January. There, he found relief and a way to get back on track with his life.

“It’s safe, it’s beautiful, it’s near all the VA (offices) I need,” said Hector. “Being a part of this community will help our family transition from active duty to retired tremendously.”

While at our Village, Hector will receive help to get control over his budget, reduce debt, and stabilize his treatment at the VA. He will also be given the tools and training he needs to establish a savings account and develop a plan for future housing.

“We will be able to focus on stabilizing income, bringing current debt down to a minimum, live in a safe environment with others in same position and continue care for disabilities,” added Hector. With the right supports in place, Hector now has hope for a bright future.

For many other families just like Hector and Raphael’s, our Villages provide a supportive environment, relieve the financial stress and provide a comprehensive package of individualized family support and financial planning services. Operation Homefront has Villages in three locations: Gaithersburg, Maryland; San Diego, California; and San Antonio, Texas. Since opening our first Village in March 2008, we have transitioned 453 families, which includes 724 military children.

View more pictures from the San Diego open house. Learn more about the Operation Homefront Villages.

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