Army veteran Waldemar Alameda, 40, served our country with distinction in multiple tours of Iraq, Kosovo, Bosnia and Afghanistan. Following 17 years of service to his country, Alameda became permanently disabled by an IED explosion while serving as a staff sergeant in Tikrit, Iraq in 2007. He was about two miles from his destination, Camp Speicher -- when he saw a hole in the road. He crept forward three feet from an artillery rigged with explosives. When it blew, his modified Hummer shielded him from shrapnel but not the blast.
Mr. Alameda suffers from severe leg and back pain, and while he can walk short distances with a cane or walker, he typically has to use a wheelchair to get around. Additionally, he suffers from post traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury and often forgets things.
Alameda moved his wife, Wanda, his son Waldemar Jr. (12) and his daughter, Maria Del Mar (11) to Tampa so he could be treated at the James A. Haley VA Medical Center for Injuries suffered while serving in Iraq.
In September, I had the honor of telling Mr. Alameda that he would receive a modular green home equipped to make his life easier, for free. The house was brought in pieces from Orlando, where it was on display at the International Builders Show. Local and national volunteers from Rebuilding Together, Sears Heroes at Home and NextGen Home Experience came together by the masses to help Alameda who fought so hard for this country to help us.
Like the other homes Rebuilding Together and Sears have worked on for veterans, Alameda's new home is uniquely equipped for his special needs. It has ramps and wide doors to accommodate his wheelchair. The LEED certified green home is equipped with Energy Star appliances and a natural gas tankless water heater. It has solar panels on the roof and is fully insulated so the Alameda's will have a low energy bill every month while reducing the family's carbon footprint. It can also withstand Category 5 hurricane winds. Two lifts will help Mr. Alameda get into his bed and tub. He can even ride an elevator to the second floor bedrooms of his two children.
The band on Mr. Alameda's wrist reads: "Brian S Hobbs KIA." He and Hobbs were together in western Afghanistan when both were on the trail of one of Osama bin Laden's top aides, Alameda said. He followed Hobbs' Humvee as it drove into a river, and he watched as it hit an underwater mine and exploded into the air. "Hobbs had served 20 years and had a teaching job lined up back home for after his deployment," said Alameda. "Instead I had to go around and pick up his body parts."
On Tuesday, March 8, the Alameda's home will be complete and I will have the honor of handing the keys to Mr. Alameda -- as a thank you for his service to this country. The Alameda's will have a second chance to start their lives over, but not every veteran is so lucky. For veterans returning from service in the global war on terror with severe injuries such as traumatic brain injury or amputation readjustment and reintegration into their families and communities can be extremely difficult. Of the nearly 200,000 service members currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, more than 33,000 have been wounded. In tough economic times, the more than 2 million troops who served after 9/11 will also eventually return home to face difficult financial hardships and mounting bills.
In addition, the majority of the 23 million veterans living in the U.S. are now in their 50s and 60s and will soon be forced to deal with how to pay for necessary home repairs on fixed incomes. More than 4.3 million veterans have a combined family income of less than $20,000, making it difficult to provide for the necessary repairs to a family home.
Millions of U.S. veterans are in desperate need of repairs and adaptations to their homes. Rebuilding Together's Veterans Housing program meets the growing needs of veterans from past and present wars. Rebuilding Together, together with Sears Heroes at Home, fills the gaps in modifications and repair services that retired and active service men and women struggle to meet. Sears has raised $12 million dollars over the past three years for Rebuilding Together's Veteran Housing projects, as part of Sears' Heroes at Home program. Later this year. Sears Heroes at Home and Rebuilding Together will meet an important landmark by rebuilding our thousandth home for veterans and that's just the beginning.
Rebuilding Together's Veterans Housing strives to provide safe and accessible housing for every low income veteran like Mr. Alameda in need of a second chance.