Rebuilding Lives

When Veterans receive a new mortgage-free specially adapted home from HFOT, they are now free to focus on their recovery and returning to their life’s work of serving others.

Many embrace their roles as motivational speakers sharing their stories of perseverance with classrooms and civic groups all over the country. Others go on to become family men, students, or take up careers as engineers, law enforcement agents, prosthetic technicians, nonprofit executives, business owners, artists, or VA staff members. HFOT even has a few US Paralympians in its Veteran family.  Read below to learn about the many ways that HFOT is Building Homes and Rebuilding Lives.

Life, Almost as It Should Be

A letter of thanks from Ivonne Thompson

Ivonne Thompson and familyIvonne is the wife and caregiver of HFOT veteran, former Naval Petty Officer Anthony Thompson, and mother to Anthony Jr. (AJ). Anthony sustained a traumatic brain injury (TBI) and an incomplete spinal cord injury after a suicide bomber detonated an explosive near him and his fellow Marines.

Life is full of uncertainties for a wounded warrior and his family. Setbacks in health are often inevitable, but what should not be a setback in the life of a wounded warrior and his family is going home after a life-altering change. For Anthony, AJ and I, going home was the best thing that could have ever happened to us; well, besides being put into contact with Homes For Our Troops.

After almost four years of Anthony being an inpatient and AJ and I living in Fisher Homes and hotels, we were ready for some stability and togetherness. AJ never knew what it was like to live in a home that was “ours.” And that’s exactly what we received from HFOT on December 7, 2010, the day all three of us were FINALLY able to live together as a family under one roof. Read more.

The instant that Anthony set wheels in his new home, he seemed at peace and relaxed. I continued to assure him that he was safe; as I always do in a new environment, and told him that we were finally “Home.”Since he was first injured, Anthony had lived his life under fluorescent lighting with a plethora of doctors and professionals constantly in his face. But being home now means no doctors around and wondering if I had learned everything I needed to know to care for Anthony. It was overwhelming and almost surreal. What gave me peace of mind, though, was knowing that this would be our forever home and that I didn’t need to worry about anything except my boys.

The equipment and customizations put into the home for Anthony made everything a little easier.

Getting him in and out of bed every day is a breeze with his lift, and there is plenty of space in his room to allow for his chair and the whole family at once. Anthony has no boundaries and that makes me happy and relieved.

It’s been three years since we came home and I couldn’t have asked for anything better. We continue to live happily as a family under one roof. AJ wakes every morning and runs to his dad’s room to say good morning. Before bedtime every night, he climbs in bed with his dad with his PJ’s on, and tells him all about his day, then says goodnight and seals it with a hug and lots of kisses. Life is almost as it should be, but more importantly, the one certainty we have is we are happy and HOME!

Lifting Others through Tough Times

Marine Corporal Brandon Rumbaugh’s first tour of duty in Iraq in 2009 was uneventful. Most of the time he says was spent lifting weights. But when he headed to Afghanistan in September 2010 for his second deployment, he had a feeling this time would be different.

On November 29, 2010, while carrying a stretcher, and rushing to aid a Marine injured in an improvised explosive device (IED) blast, Rumbaugh stepped on a second IED, resulting in the traumatic amputations of his right leg at the hip and his left leg below the knee. His brothers said their final goodbyes to him on the copter, fearing the worst.
But six months later, after pushing through aggressive therapies at Walter Reed, he would amaze everyone, and bench press 280 pounds at the 31st National Veterans Wheelchair Games.

Just where did the motivation come from? Explains Rumbaugh, “I felt like if I started getting back to the normal everyday things I used to do, that it would help me. I had to start somewhere, and the gym was that place.” Read more.

Rumbaugh has since qualified for the Paralympics in weightlifting, benching an impressive 400 pounds in his class. When he’s not lifting weights, Rumbaugh spends time lifting other Veterans through difficult times by working for a nonprofit called, It’s About the Warrior Foundation (IATW). The organization helps assist and empower Tri-State Area (Western Penn., Eastern Ohio, Northern W.V.) post 9/11 Veterans and their families with financial, educational, recreational, and therapeutic needs. Rumbaugh currently serves as its Board Advisor and motivational speaker.Rumbaugh says his group goes beyond providing handouts to Veterans. “We don’t just give checks and gift cards,” he says. “We’re going to help the Veteran and their family by understanding why it is that they need the help, and help them make good decisions after that.” Rumbaugh says the assistance he gives can be as simple as helping them make a connection at the VA or meeting up with them at dinner to talk about career moves.

Several times a week, Rumbaugh is invited through IATW to share his personal story with audiences ranging from corporate executives, to college hockey teams and elementary students. IATW’s Executive Director Steve Monteleone, says Rumbaugh has an immediate “visual effect” on the audience, which is at first standoffish and unsure how to react to the fact that the young man in front of them without legs. But after listening to Rumbaugh tell his heroic story of perseverance, they all line up to have their photos taken with him. Says Monteleone, “He’s somewhat of a celebrity.”

Rumbaugh says he feels fortunate to be in a position to give back by helping others, adding that the mortgage-free home he received from HFOT in April 2014 affords him that flexibility. “Saving $1,200-1,500 a month allows me to invest in other opportunities and helps broaden what I want to do.”

For now, that means helping others push themselves to achieve results: “No matter what- it’s never too late to move forward and work harder to accomplish what you want,” he says.

Digging Out From Disaster

When disaster, in the way of a series of tornadoes, struck Arkansas in April 2014, HFOT home recipient Kevin Pannell felt compelled to help. When he heard about a Veterans’ group, Team Rubicon, that was gearing up to help with the recovery efforts, he packed his bags and joined them.

Taking part in “Operation Rising Eagle” with Team Rubicon, Pannell did everything from sledge hammering, operating demolition trucks, removing debris and trees, and hugging and comforting displaced residents.  Pannell says his team managed to get “some very personal, very irreplaceable” items back to their owners in the hardest hit areas in Faulkner County.

“It’s unbelievable that we got the response and emotional gratitude from the victims of this storm that we did,” he says. Read more.

Pannell, who lost both legs in a grenade attack in Iraq in 2004, was also grateful for the chance to serve once again with his brothers in arms. Says Pannell, “The generosity and moral fortitude that they exhibited exemplifies what makes military members so special,” says Pannell.

Collectively, Pannell and the team of Veterans racked up over 40,000 hours of volunteer time.

Army SPC Kevin Pannell received the keys to his HFOT home in December of 2010.

A New Kind of Freedom

On an ordinary day Alex Dillmann can be found working out in his garage or cooking breakfast for his wife Holly. Only six months ago he was not able to do any of these activities in his own home.

Alex was presented his specially adapted home in Tampa by Homes For Our Troops in December 2013. Since then he has regained freedoms he lost after becoming paralyzed from the chest down in an improvised explosive device (IED) blast while deployed to Afghanistan in 2011.

Before moving into the home, daily tasks were a challenge for Alex. If he wanted to cook breakfast, the night before he and Holly would have to make sure everything he needed was left on the counter. If they forgot, he would have to wake Holly up. He couldn’t take a shower on his own without having Holly lift him into his chair. Even answering the door was a challenge because there was a step-up to get to the door. If they were expecting important packages, they would have to schedule them around a time Holly was home. Read more.

Now, with pull-down cabinets and low counters, Alex can have breakfast ready for Holly before she even gets up. He can shower without assistance in his roll-in shower and can easily access every room while in his wheelchair.

Alex now has the time for his goals and interests. He’s been focusing on getting back to school and has the room to workout in his own home and he has returned to gunsmithing, one of his favorite hobbies.

Working on guns and reloading ammunition has been extremely good therapy for Alex.  “He enjoys doing it and it makes him feel as if he still has a connection to his life prior to sustaining his combat injuries,” Holly says. “It has given us so much peace of mind and has taken so much stress off of both of us.”

Now that Holly does not have to worry about Alex’s safety or not being able to get to certain things he may need when she’s not there, she has the ability to take time for herself. She recently started taking ballet classes.

Read more about Alex’s story by visiting www.hfotusa.org/dillmann.

Freedom to be a Family Man

Freedom for Pisey Tan, can be measured in inches. Six to be exact.

Like many other HFOT home recipients, Pisey Tan is grateful for the fact that he can freely navigate his wheelchair through the doorways at home, which are expanded an extra six inches over that of traditional homes. This seemingly insignificant measurement between door frames is nearly invisible to those who walk through, but to Tan, it’s a harbinger of pride and independence.

“The best thing about the home is being able to help raise the family with my wife,” says Tan. “It gives me the chance to be the man I wanted to be before my injuries, also letting me be the father I never had.”

Tan and his wife Sieng Nai they have two daughters Alyssa and Isabella. The family lives in the specially adapted home that HFOT built for Tan in 2006 in Philadelphia. Tan was severely injured on his second deployment with the 3rd Battalion, 69th Armored Regiment, when his vehicle was struck by an improvised explosive device (IED). Read more.

After both legs were later surgically amputated, Tan worried about becoming a burden to friends and family, especially to his younger brother who had to carry him upstairs to bed.

“The idea of me, once a strong and very independent Soldier, now a broken man that needs his mother and brother to do the simplest thing such as walking up  and down the stairs was truly a depressing point in my life,” Tan says.

Then there was the physical pain he endured every day that came from not being able to use his wheelchair.  “The only way I got around in my old home was scooting around on my butt,” says Tan, who recalls being so physically exhausted and sore that he could barely move let alone slip on his prosthetics.

“Now I am able to move about the home and do things, such as putting my children on my lap while in my wheelchair and take them to their room and put them down in their own bed to sleep.”

That room-to-room accessibility, made possible by a six-inch modification, gives Tan the freedom to be the happy, proud family man he is today.

“Being able to be there for every part of my children’s lives, even just putting them to sleep, really is a life changer.”