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Deidrick Caesar, who exited the Air Force in late 2017 after 15 years of service and five deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, no longer worries about providing a home for his wife, 12-year-old daughter and new baby due this month.

Deidrick, his wife, Lissette, and daughter, Lianna, were one of the first families to move into a new home constructed under Operation Homefront’s Transitional Homes for Community Reintegration (THCR) program. The new program, made possible by the A. James & Alice B. Clark Foundation, was designed as a gateway for stability so veteran families can remain strong, stable and secure after their military service.

During his Air Force career, Deidrick served as a medical technician. He enlisted in 2002, first deployed in 2005, and deployed for the last time in 2014. His experiences range from working in the intense, trying environment of the emergency room or intensive care unit at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan to being the noncommissioned officer in charge at the neonatal intensive care unit at San Antonio Military Medical Center.

As Deidrick prepared to leave the Air Force on short notice after narrowly missing promotion requirements to E-6, he and Lissette were concerned about transitioning, particularly affording housing after losing steady income. Due to his experience downrange, Deidrick receives compensation for a 50-percent Veterans Affairs disability rating for post-traumatic stress disorder.

But with a baby boy on the way, and Deidrick needing to finish his degree before changing careers, they weren’t sure how to find their way forward. Thanks to THCR, they now feel reassured they won’t lose their footing. “It’s kind of a big deal … that a paycheck won’t be coming in,” he said. “It’s … a struggle just to come to terms with what am I going to do now. How are we going to survive?”

While living in the roughly 2,000-square-foot home in the Helotes area of San Antonio, technically rent-free, they will pay utilities and make an additional monthly payment. OH will refund them the total amount of the additional monthly payments when they graduate in two to three years from the program, which also provides financial counseling to assist families with saving, paying off debt and improving credit. The Caesars can use that refund for a down payment on a home or other needs.

The Caesars are grateful that Operation Homefront and the Clark Foundation are a major part of the solution that will lead to self-sufficiency. “This is probably the biggest blessing so far,” Deidrick said. “It’s a great feeling. That’s what everyone dreams of, being able to … buy a house … having a place we can call home.”

Deidrick acknowledges that working in trauma care took its toll over time. “Most of my deployments were rough,” Deidrick said. “I’ve seen all the soldiers and the coalition forces and even detainees come through with massive injuries.”

He also endured a health scare of his own that led to a major surgery in 2016. While imaging a blood clot found in 2015, doctors discovered a mass that was growing. Fearing it might be cancerous, they removed it, which required a 56-centimeter incision in his back and gluteus and 72 staples. The mass was benign but doctors continue to monitor Deidrick, who was a patient at the same hospital where he used to work. He could not walk for about six weeks and needed six months of physical therapy at Brook Army Medical Center’s Center for the Intrepid.

Deidrick was anxious while waiting to find out if the mass was cancerous because both of his parents died of cancer about 13 years apart in the 2000s.

Through it all, Deidrick has maintained a positive attitude and outlook. He sees a mental health care provider regularly for problems sleeping. He also stays active, working out, running 5K and 10K races, hiking and volunteering when he can.

“Always, I’m that type to look on the bright side. In my eyes, I always feel like I can overcome anything. … My wife, on the other hand, she might not have seen it that way. To be able to ease her mind, especially with a baby on the way, it makes me that much more happy that we have this opportunity to get help and to better ourselves for the future.”

Deidrick could work as an emergency medical technician, but after witnessing so much death and serious injury, he would like to shift focus and become an athletic trainer, working to prevent injuries or rehabilitate those who have been hurt. As a sports fan, particularly for teams from his hometown area of New Orleans, his dream job would be working for a professional sports team, but he is open to helping anywhere he can, including possibly supporting the military.

Using his post-9/11 GI Bill education benefits, Deidrick is taking classes toward his associate degree at Northwest Vista College in San Antonio. He would then like to transfer to University of Texas at San Antonio for kinesiology, the science of body movement.

Deidrick, who had hoped to stay in the Air Force until he was eligible to retire, said it “hurt at the time,” when he had to get out, making the adjustment to civilian life difficult. The Air Force was all he had known since he was 19. “It becomes you,” he said. Still, he believes “everything happens for a reason.” “Maybe … it’s time for me to do something different.”

Someday when the family is more settled, Lissette would like to finish her bachelor’s degree, started at University of Miami, where she also worked as a pharmacy technician. She now works as a business analyst for a health care company.

Lissette heard about THCR on the local evening news on channel 4, NBC affiliate WOAI. Deidrick said they hardly ever watch the news, and it was a “stroke of a good luck” that Lissette happened to be home and tuned in at that time. Ordinarily, she would have accompanied Deidrick to the gym at that time of day, he said. When Deidrick returned home, she told him about the program, and they felt it was meant to be. They decided to “go for it.”

The Caesars feel fortunate to be moving into a home that is larger than their apartment, with more space to spread out, which will make everyone more comfortable once the baby arrives.

Operation Homefront “definitely helps … open doors and gives families an opportunity to get on their feet … to set them up for success after the military,” Deidrick said. People may think they don’t have anywhere to turn, “but with organizations like Operation Homefront, you always have help … to stop you from falling too far to where you feel like you’re hopeless.”

Operation Homefront is a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit whose 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 over fifteen years, we have provided programs that offer: RELIEF (through Critical Financial Assistance and transitional housing programs), RESILIENCY (through permanent housing and caregiver support services) and RECURRING FAMILY SUPPORT programs and services throughout the year that help military families overcome the short-term bumps in the road so they don’t become long-term chronic problems. Please visit us at www.operationhomefront.org to learn more or support our mission.

 

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Veteran Receives Mortgage-Free Home in Washington, North Carolina:

It was a beautiful day as U.S. Marine Sergeant Ronald Seaver and wife, U.S. Marine Corporal Laura Seaver, were awarded a mortgage-free home through Operation Homefront’s Homes on the Homefront program. The home was donated by JPMorgan Chase & Co.

“We are extremely excited to become home owners,” said Ronald. “This new house means stability because before we were constantly moving.”

“My kids will be able to make friends and have a room – I love the fact that we will be stable and close to Laura’s family,” added Ronald. “This is life-changing, thank you Operation Homefront and Chase and God bless you all – you all are in my prayers.”

After receiving great scores as a firefighter, Ronald rose to the rank of sergeant. He served as an aircraft rescue and firefighter specialist. Some of his responsibilities were to perform applicable firefighting functions and assist in all phases of rescue incidents. During his 10-year term, he was deployed to Iraq in 2008. In 2012, he medically retired with an honorable discharge.

Ronald met his wife Laura through a mutual friend. Laura was also a Marine and was inspired to serve because she herself comes from a military family. Her sister, brother, and father were service members. She was stationed at Parris Island, South Carolina, and he was stationed five miles north in Beaufort. Ronald and Laura have been married for 10 years and have three children, two sons and a daughter.

Laura’s family lives in the Greenville area and will be closer to them, school, and the Veterans Affairs Hospital for Ronald. His plans are to spend quality time with his children and go back to school and earn a bachelor’s degree in public administration or human resources. Laura is going to school and plans to finish her second associates degree in human resources and bachelor’s degree in business administration by next year.

In 2012, Operation Homefront created the Homes on the Homefront program with the assistance of corporate partners to award mortgage-free homes to our nation’s veterans and military families. They have awarded over 600 homes to military families nationwide through the program.

Operation Homefront has provided since inception over $64 million dollars in home equity to military families. The homes are donated by bank partners, including JPMorgan Chase & Co. and other major financial services companies and home builders.

Anyone looking for more information or to apply can go to www.homesonthehomefront.org.

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About Operation Homefront:

Founded in 2002, Operation Homefront is a national nonprofit organization whose mission is to build strong, stable, and secure military families so that they can thrive – not simply struggle to get by – in the communities they have worked so hard to protect. Recognized for superior performance by leading independent charity oversight groups, 92 percent of Operation Homefront expenditures go directly to programs that support tens of thousands of military families each year. Operation Homefront provides critical financial assistance, transitional and permanent housing and family support services to prevent short-term needs from turning into chronic, long-term struggles. Thanks to the generosity of our donors and the support from thousands of volunteers, Operation Homefront proudly serves America’s military families.

For more information, visit OperationHomefront.org.

JPMorgan Chase’s commitment to service members and veterans:

JPMorgan Chase, a leading global financial services firm with assets of $2.5 trillion and operations worldwide, has supported our veterans since before World War I. The Office of Military and Veterans Affairs (MVA), started in 2011, has hired more than 12,000 veterans and facilitated more than 400,000 veteran hires through the Veteran Jobs Mission coalition; awarded more than 950 mortgage-free homes to military families in need; 17 in South Carolina; helped 9,520 veterans and spouses – at no cost – complete 15,554 courses through the Veterans Career Transition Program, which was co-founded and is supported by JPMorgan Chase and Syracuse University; and invested $4.2 million to support veteran-owned small businesses through access to capital and education.

Learn more at: www.jpmorganchase.com/veterans

 

 

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Continuing our annual “11Days, 11 Stories” series honoring Veterans this month, where we spotlight the stories of veterans we have met through our work here at Operation Homefront.  You can find previous stories here:

Born in the Dominican Republic and raised in New York City, Walter Perez had a full ride scholarship to Syracuse University. Instead, he decided that attending college at that time was not for him because he wasn’t ready. After graduating from high school in 2000 and witnessing the attacks of 9/11, Walter decided to join the Army. As a first-generation military enlistee, he felt that it was his duty to serve his country and make a difference. In 2003, he enlisted at Fort Hamilton in New York City.

After serving for almost thirteen years, Walter medically retired with an honorable discharge in 2016. He attained the rank of Sergeant First Class and was an acquisitions contract specialist overseeing government related contracts. He also negotiated contracts on behalf of the government when purchasing items from vendors. During his term of service, he was deployed to the Middle East four times. Walter deployed to Iraq three times in 2003, 2007, 2009 and to Afghanistan in 2009. It was during his first deployment to Iraq that he was a victim of an improvised explosive device that hit the vehicle he was riding in and he now suffers from traumatic-brain injury.

During Walter’s transition to civilian life, he was stationed at Fort Riley, Kansas, but he didn’t have a plan for after the military. He had heard about Operation Homefront’s Rent-free Transitional Housing program through his Wounded Warrior Battalion Unit. Walter had a few of his peers tell him about the nonprofit also and that they could assist him while waiting for his Veteran Affairs benefits. Walter decided to apply and was accepted into the Village program in San Antonio, Texas.

Operation Homefront’s Transitional Housing Program allows service members to live rent free while they go through the transition process. Upon placement, Operation Homefront counselors set up a mandatory schedule that these service members, veterans and their families must follow. They are required to attend support groups, workshops, benefits briefings, and resume writing classes, as determined by their counselor.

They also undergo one-on-one financial counseling to reduce debt and build savings. Operation Homefront counselors meet with each family every 30 days to review their financial situation, determine where they are in the transition process, review their attendance in the required workshops and classes, and determine their ability to live on their own.

Once they have become self-sufficient, our counselors help them find suitable housing in an area of the country where they want to settle down.

While living at the Village, Walter took full advantage of every service the program offered. He needed the guidance and direction in a transition plan, financial counseling and employment resources. After living at the Village for nine months, Walter and his wife saved over $5,000, reduced their debt by 70 percent, and purchased their first home in San Antonio.

“I want to say thank you to Operation Homefront and their staff,” said Walter. “They had so much patience and they worked with us tremendously.”

“Operation Homefront went above and beyond to make sure we were successful,” added Walter. “Everyone spoke about the different resources that veterans are given, and we became a success because of it. I love the Village program and definitely recommend it – it’s worth it.”

This blog is part of our “11 Days. 11 Stories” series where we seek to honor veterans. Check back here daily through Nov. 11 to read stories of those we’ve served. You can also join in the conversation with us by sharing stories of your own. Through Facebook or Twitter, please use the hashtag #RaiseYourHand to share your own inspirational story or picture of your military experience or 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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“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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KuschBlogImgArmy Sergeant Raymond Kusch has deployed to war zones in both Iraq and Afghanistan. While in Afghanistan on an ambush patrol of an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) factory, he knew he would need to move carefully. He didn’t know that danger was imminent.

Raymond began to move across a wall, inching closer to the target with each step. But when he placed his foot on the other side he stepped on a pressure plate IED. The explosion blew him 15 feet from the spot. Raymond was awake and alive, but his foot was gone. Shrapnel peppered his entire body. The sound of the blast punctured his ear drum. He suffered nerve damage in his right hand as well as a Traumatic Brain Injury.

Doctors operated several times, taking more of his leg with each surgery. In the months after he was injured, Raymond and his wife, Alyssa, experienced heartache after heartache. Raymond battled PTSD, the couple was homeless for over a month, and Alyssa suffered a miscarriage when the stress of their situation became too much.

Operation Homefront gave the Kusch family a safe haven. The family was put into one of our Operation Homefront Villages in Maryland and provided a rent-free apartment while they transitioned to civilian life.

Not only did living at the OH Village give the Kusch family a roof over their head, but it also offered access to a debt counselor to help them plan for the future. Raymond and Alyssa began to save money and pay down their debt, putting them in a better position for life after the military. They were able to save thousands of dollars, pay off several credit cards, and only have one car payment.

Raymond and his wife have since completed our program at the OH Village and moved back to their home state of Michigan.

“I really appreciate what you all did for me,” said Raymond. “A lot of stress was lifted from me.”

Raymond is now co-owner of a gaming business. His wife, Alyssa, went back to school to be a medical x-ray technician. Their story is one of many examples of the difference we are able to make in the lives of so many families, thanks to all of our generous donors and corporate partners.

We’d like to thank ESPN who recently gave $100,000 to help families who stay at our Operation Homefront Villages. If you’d like to make a difference for our military and veteran families through Operation Homefront, find out how you can answer the call.

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