For many who return from war, the battle does not end. And for many service connected disabled veterans, transitioning back home is difficult, partly because their houses were not built to accommodate their physical or mental needs.
Learning firsthand how great the need is, friends and Iraq War veterans Dale Beatty and John Gallina formed Purple Heart Homes, a nonprofit organization. Driven by the belief that no veteran should be left behind, Purple Heart Homes, with help from local communities, committed itself to ensuring quality-of-life solutions for disabled American veterans from all eras.
In 2004, Beatty and Gallina nearly died together when their Humvee was blown up by an IED in Iraq. Beatty lost both his legs, and Gallina suffered severe head and back injuries. Beatty in particular found that his home was not suited for his disability. “Before I had a house that was accessible, I crawled around on the floor, or my knuckles scraped on the door every time as the wheelchair was going through,” he said. Beatty’s community rallied together to help build a home for him and his family. “After all the build and project was done, John and I sat back and kind of looked and said, 'Is every veteran receiving this best-case scenario?'"
Since its start in 2008, Purple Heart Homes has become much more than a foundation that modifies or provides homes for disabled veterans. It also helps bridge them together with their community. Beatty says, “The community is the key. They are the key hinge point between Purple Heart Homes and the veteran because when Purple Heart Homes is done with this project and we go on to the to the next one, this person’s neighbors are the ones who become their support system.”
“A major part of reintegration is not just simply from the veteran's perspective,” says Gallina. “It’s also from the community showing that they accept him back.” For Gallina, whose injuries are not as visible as Beatty’s, Purple Heart Homes has helped him heal. In addition to severe back injuries, Gallina also suffers from PTSD. “Having post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury, it really became a focal point that enabled me to find my own healing. To be able to grow myself and come out of my shell, to not be sitting in the house three or four weeks at a time, and I can have a purpose that was greater than myself."
“Some identify with John because of his PTSD injuries or traumatic brain injury, and that’s why they apply for our services,” says Beatty. “And that to me, shows we are making progress and changing the way people think, at least in the veterans, 'cause they are not afraid to ask for help for injuries that you can’t see.”
Sgt. Scott Emory, a Gulf War veteran, is one of the latest people Purple Heart Homes is helping. Emory’s injuries are from a piece of machinery falling on him, crushing his back. But combat has also left lasting, emotional wounds. Purple Heart Homes is building an extension onto his home so Emory can have a place to retreat to when he feels the effects of PTSD. “Just having his own corner of his home is beneficial for his PTSD because he can’t sleep. He has insomnia because of that” say Beatty. “The other changes we are doing in the house will make it easier for his back [and] his other physical injuries, as well.”
For Emory, Purple Heart Homes provided something much greater than an add-on to his home. “Families come out and support you, and they don’t even know you. To me that’s like sticking your neck out for people who ordinarily wouldn’t do it for you,” says Emory. “To me, you’re bringing that little bit of faith back, giving that little bit of faith back to veterans—faith in people because you don’t have that when you first get out.”
Gallina says, “When we have 20 or 30 people show up on a project that can say, 'Scott, you are not different, you’re OK. Yes, thank you for your service, and we appreciate and we are here and we want you to be a part of our community,' it makes a difference. It makes them feel as though they’re accepted. And that’s what true integration takes to feel accepted.”
Know of someone who is doing inspiring or innovative things? Share with us at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet us at #theupbeat and #yahoonews.
Produced by Deborah Grau. Edited by Amina Megalli. Directors of photography: Josh Simmons and Collin Scouten. Audio: Clyde Covington. Associate producer: Meghan Moore. Production assistant: Alan Varner. Graphics by Todd Tanner for Yahoo! Studios. Production supervisor: Michael Manas. Executive producers: Russ Torres and Charity Elder for Yahoo! Studios.