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Posts Tagged ‘Veterans Day’

Today, we are thrilled to share with you a blog piece by our President and C.E.O., John Pray, Jr. on how working together, we can build strong, stable and secure military families.

jprayblog11-11-16At Operation Homefront, we are driven to meet the needs of our veterans, service members and their families in their time of need because they have done so much to serve all of us in our nation’s time of need. Their stories matter as this amazing group of our fellow citizens chose to put our needs ahead of theirs and expect very little in return for their service.    Veterans Melissa and Aaron Schafer of Chattanooga, TN are members of this very special group.

Growing up in a military family, Melissa enlisted in the Army National Guard in 1998 as a military police officer and experienced her first active duty tour in 2002.   She subsequently enlisted in the Reserves, deployed to Afghanistan in 2007 and was honorably discharged in 2008 after being diagnosed with major arthritis in her back.

During her last year in service, Melissa met Aaron, who also served as a Military Police Officer in the Army.   They have been married for seven years and have three children.   Like many military families transitioning back to their civilian communities, they worked hard, but were finding it difficult to make ends meet for their family of five.

I met the Schafers in September, when we presented them the deed for a mortgage-free home after successfully completing our two-year Homes on the Homefront program.   We were joined by our long-time partner Chase, as well as Cracker Barrel Old Country Store,  on this special day.

“It’s a dream that I never thought would happen. It helped us focus on other things and prioritize. This home has become financially and emotionally rewarding for me and my family.said Melissa. “It has given us the opportunity to be successful homeowners (and) assisted us in reducing our debt and building a better future.”

Military families have earned the opportunity to thrive, not simply struggle to get by, in the communities they have worked so hard to protect.  For many this means needing temporary help with mortgage and rent payments, utilities, grocery bills, and car and home repairs.

Throughout 2016, we experienced a dramatic increase in the number of applications and requests for assistance that has put significant pressure on our ability to meet their critical needs.

Almost as soon as Hurricane Matthew left the eastern coast in October, we began to receive applications for assistance from military families across Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia seeking our help.

“Because of Hurricane Matthew we have lost all of our food and perishables due to power outages as well as it’s a struggle just to provide food monthly in general,” wrote one applicant.

“We have been without power for roughly 4 days and all of our food has gone bad. At this time, we cannot afford to replace all of our food due to all of the moving costs,” wrote another who had just moved to the area.

We know it’s never easy to ask for help even when you are going through a rough patch.

“Veterans and soldiers are very self-sufficient group,” wrote one client in a thank you email. “If they seek out Operation Homefront for assistance, then you are their last resort and they have already exhausted all other avenues… To have OH come through makes a world of difference. By you providing a temporary assistance, it made a huge difference in my life. My confidence is back, and the world turned for the positive for me. This was just through OH helping me for the one month that I couldn’t figure out.”

These are the types of success stories we work so hard to make possible.

Beginning Veterans Day, you will get a chance to read powerful stories of 11 military families whose lives have been made strong, stable and secure by Operation Homefront.  I hope all our donors feel very connected to those we are able to help and recognize the key role they play in making these wonderful stories happen.

Operation Homefront’s mission is to build strong, stable, and secure military families so they can thrive in the communities that they’ve worked so hard to protect.  Learn more about the impact we are having and how you can help.

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woodley

Facing an uncertain future, the Woodley family found hope and a new start at Operation Homefront Villages.

After coming home from his deployment to Iraq in 2008, U.S. Army Sergeant Eric Woodley felt fine, but as time went on, he started to notice he wasn’t the same. Eventually diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, and suddenly, his service to his country, something he held dear, was coming to an end.

Service is in Eric’s blood. He hails from a family of veterans. After the terrible events of September 11, 2001, Eric knew what he had to do. He enlisted in the United States Marines, and deployed with two Marine Expeditionary units. After his term with the Marines was up, Eric joined the Army and deployed on that fateful tour.

Now facing an uncertain future, Eric met with his first and platoon sergeants to discuss his next steps. Transition from service is difficult under the best of circumstances, but when the transition comes quickly and without much notice, the financial and emotional impacts can be devastating on a family. Concerned for Eric and his family’s immediate stability and security, the sergeants suggested he reach out to Operation Homefront and inquire about our programs that address the needs of soldiers like him. It turned out to be the best advice they could have given him.

Eric and his family moved into the Operation Homefront Village in San Antonio. While at Operation Homefront Villages, veterans live rent-free while they go through the transition process. They also undergo one-on-one financial counseling to reduce debt and build savings. Eric was able to save $26,000 to pay off his vehicle note and place enough money in savings to build a brand new home.

On more solid ground, Eric was able to go back to school at ITT Tech University to study cyber-security. He plans to transfer to St. Phillips College shortly to complete his studies. All made possible by his time at the Operation Homefront Village.

Knowing this is made possible by the generous support of concerned Americans touches Eric deeply. He wants our community to know that he is incredibly grateful. He shares, “Thank you. I know so many people out there support our troops, but it’s so different when you can see that someone actually cares enough to help us out.”

Vets-Day_fbthumbBlogOperation Homefront is honored to be able to answer the call of our brave men and women in uniform when they need it the most. We are able to do so because of the amazing supporters who stand beside us. If you would like to help answer the call, join us at operationhomefront.net/answerthecall

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Vaugh1As a teenager, Phillip Vaughn watched the twin towers fall in New York City and felt compelled to answer a call to serve his country. But at the time, he was still too young to join the service. Shortly after his 18th birthday in 2003, Phillip did answer that call of two years prior, and he enlisted in the U.S. Army.

Ten years passed. During his years in the military, Phillip deployed twice — once to Iraq and once to Afghanistan. During his last deployment to Afghanistan in 2013, his forward operating base experienced a rocket attack. Phillip sustained several injuries and was medevaced to Germany. Shortly after, he was sent to Walter Reed Military Medical Center at NSA Bethesda in Maryland.

While in the Warrior Transition Unit at Walter Reed, Phillip learned about Operation Homefront and the rent-free Operation Homefront Village apartments available for transitioning service members and their families. At the time, he and his family were staying in an apartment off base. They were struggling to make ends meet. The apartment was expensive and put a financial burden on the family. He decided to find out more and applied to stay at the Operation Homefront Village in Gaithersburg, Maryland and was accepted.

From there, relief set in and Phillip was able to make progress on the road to recovery. Living at the Operation Homefront Village allowed Phillip and his family to better handle all of the changes, stress and pressure associated with transitioning to civilian life. As part of the support offered at the Operation Homefront Villages, the family was offered free financial counseling. Phillip used what he learned, and paid off more than $9000 in debt, putting his family in a better position for life after the military.

Vaugh2Phillip is currently attending aeronautics school to get a degree in aviation and maintenance management. Financially, they achieved their goal of lowering their debt, which greatly reduced financial stress on the family. Phillip has recently accepted an intern position and hopes to continue his education.

“We are appreciative of the opportunity Operation Homefront gave us,” said Phillip. “This program has relieved so much pressure for us.”

Vets-Day_fbthumbBlogTo get relief during a crisis, a place to recover if you needed and recognition for a life of sacrifice.  That’s what we do at Operation Homefront… and with your support, it’s making a difference.

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nathan-11-days-11-stories-400pixHe had planned to be a Marine for 20 years, and then retire. His wife was beside him all the way and supported his goal. And all family decisions, including financial ones, were based on being a military family for the next 20 years.

But then everything changed.

He deployed to Afghanistan, was injured, and then told that he would be discharged. As the shock set in, the couple had no idea where they would live, when VA benefits would start, or how they would pay their bills. They had no “plan B” for what they would do if 20 years ended early.

Their story is more common than one might think. And it’s the reason why Operation Homefront established our transitional housing program, and set up rent-free Operation Homefront Villages for families like this one. Operation Homefront Villages are currently operated in three locations across the country:

  • San Diego, CA – serves those primarily at Balboa Hospital and Camp Pendleton
  • Gaithersburg, MD – serves those primarily at Walter Reed Military Medical Center at NSA Bethesda
  • San Antonio, TX – serves those primarily at San Antonio Military Medical Center and Audie Murphy VA Hospital

The Operation Homefront Villages, which consist of approximately around 15 apartments within a complex, allow wounded, ill, and injured service members and their families to live rent-free while they transition from military to civilian life. The apartments are fully furnished, with utility services, internet access, cable TV, telephone service, and all of the comforts of home provided. And these families have support from other military families who are residents for the same reason. They can connect and encourage each other while they all undergo a similar transition to a new life. Our mission at Operation Homefront is to build strong, stable, and secure military families and the Operation Homefront Villages help bridge the gap at an important turning point in these families’ lives.

When a service member becomes a resident at one of our villages, Operation Homefront counselors set up a plan for the family to follow. They attend support groups, and workshops that help them review their benefits or write their resumes. Residents also receive one-on-one financial counseling to reduce debt and build savings. For many of the residents, they need time to adjust to the idea of life outside the military. They need to build up their savings and decide where they really want to live. They also need time to decide on a career path and sometimes make plans to attend school. The Operation Homefront Villages give them the freedom and space to do that.

“Operation Homefront counselors meet with each military family every 30 days to review where they are in the transition process and determine their ability to live on their own,” said Gracie Broll, senior director of transitional housing. “Once they have become self-sufficient, our counselors help them find suitable housing in the area they intend to live on a permanent basis.”

“Upon completion of the program, veterans and their families should have VA benefits in place, debt significantly reduced, and emergency savings in place,” added Broll.

This year alone, Operation Homefront Villages have provided 504 months of rent-free, fully furnished housing to 87 military families who, combined, are raising 155 military kids.

“A little over a year ago my kids and I arrived at one of the Operation Homefront Villages. The thing about Operation Homefront… I was never just a number. A name. A statistic. A random check or donation. (They) made an investment in me. In my life. In my future. On a deeply personal level,” said Nathan, a resident at our Village in Maryland.

Vets-Day_SquareIn our upcoming blog series, “11 days. 11 stories,” we’ll share with you the stories of some of our families and their journey through service, injury, recovery and transition. You will hear about how supporters like you have changed lives. The series begins Wednesday, Nov. 11, Veterans Day, and features a different family every day and shows how Operation Homefront Villages improve the course of the future for these families.

 

If you would like more information about Operation Homefront Villages, please email our Transitional Housing Program. If you would like to help families like these, give a gift here. We are grateful to so many partners that provide resources like educational benefits, employment readiness, family and individual counseling, peer to peer support, financial management, benefits assistance and morale building.

 

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Strobach-operation-homefrontThere are many reasons Adam Strobach was motivated to leave his small-town home in Wisconsin and answer the call to join the Army —no jobs in his small hometown, a desire to see the world, and a feeling of gratitude to his country.

His journey began when the Army sent Adam to Fort Bragg, N.C., where he met his wife Katey—a self-professed military brat. The two married and had a son. Life was good. Like any military family, they endured time apart as Adam completed two deployments to Iraq.

During his last deployment in 2013, Adam was injured. The couple’s second son was born in January 2013, and Adam was medically discharged from the Army a month later. As Adam sought to recover from his injuries, the family learned to adjust to their new existence.

During his transition, Adam was told that the wait time for his benefits to arrive would be about 60 days. The wait time stretched from 60 days to three, four, five, and then six months. Because the family did not have enough savings and no income, they were unable to live on their own. Sadly, Adam, Katey, and their two sons had to move into the basement of Adam’s brother.

The couple gave the American Legion power of attorney to help them navigate the VA benefits process, and an Army Wounded Warrior (AW2) advocate was assigned to Adam and Katey. In the meantime, the family fell farther behind on their monthly bills.

Katey and Adam’s AW2 told them to submit an application to Operation Homefront for financial assistance. While the couple initially requested help to pay their car loans and insurance they ended up getting money to help with buying groceries, critical baby needs, and money for travel. This freed up money to help cover their other bills.

Katey states, “I could not believe how quickly the cards came. The gift cards arrived the next day after we were approved. It was super fast.” This was really helpful and came when it was really needed.”

The VA benefits have started; and while the family is still playing catchup, they hope to be on track by tax season.

Katey and Adam are optimistic about the future. Katey shared some good news: “We are able to pay our current bills and are paying on past due balances. Adam has a job offer and reference from one of his former military sergeants…which will help the family finances even more.”

vets-day_blog_thumbOperation Homefront is honored to help military families, like the Strobach family, get through unexpected tough times. Learn more about how anyone can answer the call and help Operation Homefront serve our veteran and military families at www.operationhomefront.net/answerthecall .

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sean grimes photo 3For Sean Grimes, life started in a way that was similar to most American kids. He grew up in the heartland of Bloomingdale, Ill. After high school, he got a job, and moved out into his own apartment.

Then Sept 11, 2001 happened. Sean was so deeply affected by this tragedy that he joined the Marines in November and by December, Sean was in boot camp. Sean wanted to be a Marine because he believed the Marines were “the best and the hardest of the military branches.” His family was not thrilled with his decision even though two uncles and a grandfather were former Marines. But Sean persevered.

After boot camp, Sean went to Japan for three and a half years and then returned to Camp Pendleton before getting out in 2005. In 2007, Sean was recalled to active duty and sent to Camp Lejeune. He then deployed to Iraq for almost a year. Sean was discharged in March 2008.

For almost a year, Sean tried to adjust to civilian life, but he struggled. In early 2009, he admitted himself into a nearby PTSD clinic. That same year he thought he had a heart attack. Although the symptoms were close, in reality Sean was diagnosed with pericarditis. He spent seven days in the hospital.

A few months later, Sean entered college, working full time as he attended classes and studied. He received his Bachelor’s Degree in October 2011. He began working towards his Master’s degree, but Sean was hit by something unexpected.

sean grimes photo 1Headaches began to plague Sean daily. He went to the doctor and discovered that he had a tumor on his brain and stage one cancer. A series of intricate surgeries removed forty percent of the tumor.

In his usual style, Sean continued to persevere through the disease and continued working but he couldn’t keep up. By May of 2014, Sean found himself in a financial dilemma. Although he received VA disability and worked, monthly bills plus the extra gas needed to drive to his medical appointments for cancer and PTSD treatments left him without any extra money. While he was making it, he had no room for anything to go wrong.

Because of the extra wear and tear on his vehicle, the tires on Sean’s vehicle wore out and needed to be replaced…soon. He was advised by a mechanic that the car was unsafe to drive. Sean didn’t have the money.

“Normally I would not ask for help, but I really needed some assistance,” Sean said. He decided to apply for assistance from Operation Homefront. Soon, his tires were replaced and he was able to safely drive to work, school, and medical appointments.

“Being a Marine, I don’t like to ask for help, but I am glad that there are programs like Operation Homefront out there for veterans. It is heartwarming to know that (Operation Homefront) was there for me. I am very grateful.”

Sean is back on track to completing his Master’s degree. Unfortunately, one month after Operation Homefront assisted Sean, he was laid off from his job. But in his typical style, he will not give up. Sean continues to look for a job and is receiving treatment for his PTSD and brain cancer.

He is optimistic about his future: “I have a good head on my shoulders, my fiancé has moved in with me, I am attending school, and I am looking for a job.”

We wish Sean all the best.

vets-day_blog_thumbOur supporters are the reason we are able to help veterans like Sean, who persevere through difficult circumstances. Find out more how Operation Homefront is increasing their efforts to help military families at www.operationhomefront.net/answerthecall.

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You could say Edward Smith has the military in his blood. Born and raised in Freeport, New York, Edward knew early on that he wanted to answer the call to serve his country. It’s easy to see why. His father was a Korean War veteran and had a major influence on him wanting to join the military.

edwardsmith-300pixelsHis father had served in the Army, but Edward had a longing for the wind and the waves. So in 1984, he joined the Coast Guard in his hometown. After serving for seven years in the Coast Guard, Edward’s love of the water led him to join the Navy. He served another seven years and received an honorable discharge from the Navy before returning to the Coast Guard as a reservist in 1998.

As an assistant master of arms, Edward assisted in law enforcement by enforcing discipline and non-traditional punishment. During his 30 years of military service, Edward was deployed to Iraq in 2008.

Unable to afford his own home, Edward was living in a one bedroom apartment. With two teenage children, it felt a little crowded for a family of three. After hearing about our Homes on the Homefront program through a veteran’s program, Edward decided to apply for a home.

Thanks to Operation Homefront and our partner Wells Fargo, Edward received a mortgage-free home in Connecticut. “It’s a perfect situation,” Edward said. “This will provide stability and improve my financial situation.”

Edward still spends time on the water as a tug boat captain, but he hopes to retire soon. He also plans on transferring his GI Bill to his children and help put them through college. Until then, he’d like to spend more quality time with them camping and white water rafting.

Vets-Day_blog_icontact“Operation Homefront and Wells Fargo are what make this country great,” added Edward. “Thank you all for helping the veteran community.”

Thank you, Edward, for how you chose to answer the call and build a life of military service.

Join Operation Homefront as we increase our efforts to help our military families. Find out more at www.operationhomefront.net/answerthecall .

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