On this West Virginia Week, we learned about plants that can thrive in former mine lands, we kayaked along the Gauley River, we learned about an art exhibit inspired by recent cuts at West Virginia University, and we saw dogs fly from Charleston to Michigan to reach their forever homes.Continue Reading Take Me to More News
A national nonprofit group that builds custom houses for severely wounded veterans broke ground Saturday on its first project in West Virginia. Homes for Our Troops will hand over the keys to Sergeant Charles “Doug” Harris later this year. The mortgage-free house in Romney will include hundreds of adaptations specially designed for Harris.
“I was injured May 30 of 2012 — just stepped on an IED.”
I first met Army Sgt. Doug Harris in early April at the opening of the Monongalia County Ballpark, in Morgantown.
“Resulted in the amputation of my right leg immediately. My arm was almost blown off, but luckily enough they were able to save it, and I lost my left leg a day later due to infection,” Harris said.
He sustained his injuries while on patrol in Afghanistan with the 5-20 Infantry, 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team. He spent seven months recovering at Walter Reed Medical Center in Maryland.
Doug met his fiancee, Autumn Deter, while he was rehabbing.
“We actually, we started talking online and then we decided to meet one day at Bob Evans and since then we just hit it off,” Deter said.
Restrictive Living Space
Doug and Autumn live in her grandparents’ house in Cumberland, Maryland. But the house isn’t big enough to accommodate a wheelchair. That makes it very hard for Doug to get around and do basic things that other people may take for granted, like laundry. That task is left completely to Autumn because the washer and dryer are on a separate floor.
“I hate doing laundry, but I’m kinda looking forward to being able to at least have the option and the ability to go and do that,” Harris said.
A Wounded Warrior advocate urged Doug to apply to the Homes for Our Troops program while he was at Walter Reed.
Homes for Our Troops
Homes for Our Troops works with veterans who were severely injured in combat during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, post-9/11. Shelley Yarborough is a board member for Homes for Our Troops.
“It began, basically, as a general contractor up in Massachusetts seeing the need. Had a local veteran who was severely injured. He said I’m going to build you a home and the vet basically challenged him. He said I’m not going to take it unless you build another one, too,” she said.
Yarborough was among the hundred or so people who came out Saturday, May 9, for a groundbreaking ceremony at the Augusta Fire Hall, outside Romney.
She said Homes for Our Troops doesn’t build just anywhere.
“Homes for Our Troops listens to the vets and their families. Where is it that you need a home? Why do you need to be there. What is your objective? What will this home enable for you?” she said.
Yarborough said once the veteran’s needs and long-term goals are laid out, a location is picked that works for the veteran.
‘They Go Out of Their Way’
“They go out of their way to try to find property in that local area, because family infrastructure and support is so important for a vet to be able to continue to move on,” she said.
Homes for Our Troops has finished projects in 39 states and Yarborough said 90 percent of donations to the program go toward building costs.
Each home is about 2,600 square feet with four bedrooms and two bathrooms on one level. There are about 150 special adaptations the veterans can choose from.
“I’ve been in my house for about a year, a year and a week now.”
Marine Cpl. Brandon Rumbaugh lives in Uniontown, Pennsylvania. Like Doug Harris, he’s a double amputee who was wounded in Afghanistan. Brandon was in Romney on Saturday to meet Doug and offer his support.
Before Homes for Our Troops built Brandon’s home, he was was in a two-story rental. The bathroom wasn’t big enough to fit his wheelchair and the bedroom was on the second floor.
“There was a lot of crawling around and a lot of my time was spent figuring out how I was going to do things around the house,” Rumbaugh said.
Now Brandon says being in a house tailored to his needs has gotten rid of a lot of stress in his life.
“You’re able to focus on yourself more than anything and become independent. You start to realize you can do more and it gives you that motivation to work a little harder and to push for more.”
Outside the fire hall, you could tell how much the community is taking an interest in Doug and Autumn.
“It’s an awesome experience. I mean when I enlisted, I didn’t do it for the thank-yous or anything like that. So for somebody to come up to me that I never knew or anything like that, it’s shocking, but it’s really humbling and it’s an awesome experience,” Harris said.
Doug’s house should be finished by fall. He won’t have to pay a mortgage or homeowner’s insurance. Homes for Our Troops does put a 10-year lien on the property, though. Beginning in year six of the lien, Doug will begin accruing 20 percent equity in the home. He’ll own it outright by year 10.