STATESVILLE, N.C. — Dale Beatty and John Gallina of Statesville were both wounded by landmines on Nov. 15, 2004, while serving in Iraq, and both received the Purple Heart medal. When they returned home, their community welcomed them with warm support and grateful appreciation for their service. They were touched by the outpouring of support they saw for veterans of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, but noticed that older veterans often didn’t get the same focus.
They did some research and found that combat-related disabilities wreak havoc on veterans’ lives long after they leave the hospital. From lifestyle and mobility changes to credit problems due to hospital bills, often veterans and their caretakers fight a lifelong battle to stay in their homes. Gallina and Beatty wanted to fill some gaps in the housing system for veterans, so they founded Purple Heart Homes in 2008 to rally support and volunteers to renovated veterans’ homes and make life a little easier for them.
“Older veterans live in homes built in the 1950s and 1960s that oftentimes are not suited for service connected disabilities combined with normal aging issues in later life,” said Beatty, who lost both legs below the knee in a landmine explosion.
Beatty and Gallina turned to mayors and credit unions across the country for help. The National League of Cities and The Home Depot Foundation pitched in to get funding into the right hands. This week the group announced the 300th renovation completed by Purple Heart Homes.
“It’s top of mind that to our veteran families, ‘home’ means everything,” said Gallina. “It’s a place to heal, it’s a special sanctuary that provides stability and needed neighborly support.”
The milestone home renovation was for for brothers Michael and Franklin Shoop, both service connected disabled veterans who served in the Navy in Vietnam. Community volunteers built a new bathroom, with new flooring and an accessible vanity and shower for the brothers.
“There were tremendous difficulties with our bathroom, including floors that were rotting and a bathtub that was almost impossible to use,” said Franklin Snoops. “Now, we can age in place in this house, where we have lived for such a long time. We thank everyone involved from the bottom of our hearts.”
Purple Heart Homes’ Veterans Aging In Place (VAIP) Program is aimed at keeping veterans from having to move into an assisted living facility any sooner than needed. F Purple Heart Day in August to Veterans Day in November each year, the group raises money and help from communities across the country. In 2013, they were part of a project by several veterans’ organizations that built five complete houses for disabled veterans in Denver, N.C.
This year, seven cities participated including Fayetteville and the Fort Bragg Federal Credit Union and Winston-Salem with the Allegacy Federal Credit Union. Each city helps identify veterans who need home modifications and organizes volunteers to work on projects like ramps, grab bars, fresh paint or to help with yard cleanup.
In addition to the home renovations for disabled veterans, the group runs a Veterans Homes Ownership Program which helps younger veterans buy their first home. Last month, Purple Heart Homes sponsored the first annual Veterans Aging Summit at UNC Chapel Hill, focused on how to help veterans age with dignity and get them and their caregivers the resources they need. The summit brought together public policy experts, veterans groups and community leaders to hammer out what kind of housing solutions and community resources disabled veterans need.
To contribute to Purple Heart Homes work visit purplehearthomesusa.org