Imagine not being able to enter your baby daughter’s room to kiss her goodnight because your wheelchair won’t fit through the doorway.
Want to get into a shower without needing help or reach the faucet to wash your hands and face? Sorry. That box of cereal and that bowl in the upper cabinet? No luck there, either. Boiling a pot of water on the stove? Forget about it.
Thousands of young military men and women — people who had plans and dreams for the future — now face such barriers all because something evil, such as a bullet or an improvised explosive devise changed their lives.
Marine LCpl John Curtin was an active 20-year-old Marine in an infantry platoon when his life changed in 2011 during an after-action review in the Helmand province of Afghanistan. He turned a corner and stepped on an IED.
The explosion took both of his legs, shattered his left hand, severely injured his right arm and left him with other injuries. But the biggest injury was the loss of his independence.
On Saturday, Curtin’s life as well as the lives of his wife, Brittany, and young daughter, Ashlyn, were changed again when they finally entered their new mortgage-free home, built by Homes for Our Troops, specifically to meet Curtin’s needs, with a focus on his independence.
“I always had great support, from my family and my brother, support from the Marines I served with,” Curtin told a gathering of more than 100 supporters, friends and community members.
After his injury, he found support through new friends, many with similar injuries.
“Now I hope to give back to (Brittany) and treat her the way she needs to be supported in this house.”
The Curtins were escorted from their rental home in Thompson’s Station to their new home in Arrington by the members of the Williamson County Sheriffs Office, the Arrington Fire Department and the Combat Veterans Association motorcycle group. Upon their arrival, they were greeted by more than 100 flag-waving supporters, friends and community members.
Among the group was Wynonna Judd and her husband, Scott “Cactus” Moser, a drummer in her band.
“We do a lot with veterans,” said Moser, who lost his left leg in a motorcycle accident in 2012. “Something like this is so amazing. It completely shows the love and support of the community and shows the true meaning of America. This is a blessing for our troops.”
Homes for Our Troops reaches out to severely injured Post 9/11 veterans and builds specially adapted custom homes to enable them to rebuild their lives. Since the national program began in 2004, it has built homes in 42 states.
The Curtins’ home is the group’s 277th. It is also the third of its kind in Williamson County and eighth HFOT home in Tennessee. Three more are underway: another in Williamson County and one each in Rutherford and White counties.
“This program is truly unlike any other,” said Bill Ivey, a veteran and executive director of the Massachusetts-based Homes for Our Troops. “We find a veteran or they find us, and if we’re a match, we build them their dream home so they can rebuild their lives.”
The impact on those veterans and their families also reflects an impact on the communities in which they live, work and play.
According the HFOT statistics, before receiving their home, only 12% of wounded warriors and 8% of spouses or caregivers pursued higher education or trade certification. After receiving their HFOT home 69% of veterans and 90% of spouses and caregivers obtained or are pursuing degrees or certifications.
That trickles down to a 67% increase in employment for veterans and 300% increase for spouses and caregivers who feel free to return to work, a 37% increase in family income, a 58% decrease in family debt and a 57% increase in family savings. It has also led to an increase from 59% to 79% of wounded veterans marrying and starting families and an increase from 12% to 67% in veteran community involvement.
According to Ivey, veterans such as Curtin, who wear prosthesis for legs revert to wheelchairs at home because wearing the prostheses is tiring and some run on battery power and need regular charging.
“The house is completely accessible to folks in a wheelchair,” Ivey said. “At the end of the day, they can take their legs off and be completely functional doing normal daily stuff. Houses are built for the loss of two or more limbs. All are in a wheelchair sometime or other in the home.”
The master bath is designed for a veteran in a wheelchair to get in the shower or shave without relying on a spouse or caregiver, Ivey said. Shower heads are situated above a bench with another shower head farther away, so a spouse can use the shower. There is a double digital water temperature thermostat and an accessible whirlpool/double-jet bathtub; a roll-under sink and mirrors that tilt for a wheelchair view.
The bedroom has a roll in closet with drop-down hanging bars, and it doubles as a storm shelter.
Most former military “are pretty independent natured,” Ivey said. “Being dependent drives them nuts. We restore some of that independence. We build the house for the rest of their life.”
Homes for Our Troops are built by local builders and contractors and designed with automated exterior doors for easy entry, doorways wide enough for a wheelchair and feature hardwood or tile floors. They also have a dual HVAC system and a whole-house generator.
Appliances, including the washer and dryer, as well as counters in the kitchen are designed for wheelchair use. Stovetops have roll-under access with controls for the vent, light and stovetop installed at a lower level, They do have special kid-resistant features so a child can’t turn on the stove.
HFOT receives input from homeowners regarding improving interior designs. Features such as a bathroom sink for spouses with storage under it, digital water thermostats, remote-control blinds and a larger laundry room are among those that have been included in the Curtins’ home.
“We build their homes as close to where they they want to live, raise families, go to school or train,” Ivey said. “We stay with them the rest of their lives with our Veterans Action and Advise Team. We provide peer mentoring and financial planning for building a solid foundation for the future.”
For more information about Homes for Our Troops, visit www.hfotusa.org or call 866-787-6677.