Coming home wasn’t easy for Staff Sergeant David Veros of Jacksonville, Fla., an Air Force veteran, who earned a Purple Heart, Air Force Commendation Medal, Air Force Combat Action Medal, and several other honors during six tours of duty in Iraq before his medical retirement in 2012. He had grown accustomed to military life and all that came with it, from the down times when time slowed to a crawl to other weeks defined by dangerous missions and deadly enemy attacks. It was the life he knew best, and he treasured the camaraderie among his brothers- and sisters-at-arms who always had one another’s backs.
The adjustment back to civilian life was jarring. “Coming home can be brutal,” David says, “because you’re going from one life to a drastically different one.”
Meanwhile, a number of serious injuries from his deployments followed him home as well. He suffers from ongoing short-term memory problems, insomnia, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), and other challenges, making the transition even more difficult. The decorated war veteran struggled for seven months to find a job.
A Turning Point
David’s bright spots through those years were his family and friends, especially his wife, Carolyn—who stays home to care for their children, Natalie and Trip, but also to be available for David as obstacles crop up related to his injuries. He says his mother, Jennifer Veros, has also been incredibly supportive.
Still, David and his family had a lot of financial anxiety. David was beginning to wonder if he’d ever fit in well with a traditional job, feeling that some civilian careers were too focused on self-promotion and didn’t seem to align well with the values he’d embraced in the military. “In the military, you’re always looking for success in others as well as yourself,” he explains. “I’m all about building other people up.”
It turned out that the right fit for David’s career goals was right under his nose—at Wounded Warrior Project®, a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating awareness, raising funds, and providing programs to meet the needs of injured service members. He had been volunteering there when the organization offered him of a full-time position as warrior coordinator—helping others make the same transition he has made. The new job has become one of many life changers for David.
“A lot of veterans get out and don’t know why they feel the way they do or why they’re having the issues they have,” he explains. “I’ve been there. I know what that feels like.” The organization also readily makes accommodations for David’s mental and physical challenges, affording him breaks or anything else he needs throughout the day. “There are a lot of people with the same issues I have who aren’t able to benefit from the typical type of work environment,” David says. “Wounded Warrior Project has been a saving grace for my employment. They gave me a whole new perspective on life after service, so I’m very grateful to them as well.”
A Life-Changing Gift
Yet there was still another transformative change to come for David and his family—a gift he could never have expected. Last November, just before the much-anticipated, annual college football standoff between the Florida Gators and Georgia Bulldogs, David was invited to come to the game to be recognized for his outstanding service to his country. Though he felt apprehension about being the center of attention in a large crowd, he knew it was a significant honor and would mean a lot to his family.
In fact, because there were only tickets for David, Carolyn, and their children, his mother, Jennifer, was scrambling to secure a pair of tickets herself when a call came into her office at Diversified Port Holdings (DPH), which is a Regions corporate client. Georgette Smith, an associate at Regions in Jacksonville, had received tickets from her supervisor, who asked if she knew anyone who might be able to use them. She thought of her contact at DPH, Penny Hogan, who, in turn—knowing that Jennifer was desperate to be there to see her son being honored—offered them to her. For David, knowing his mom would be in the stands “meant the world to him” and certainly helped ease his anxiety.
While being recognized for his service, David learned there was a much bigger surprise to come. Standing at midfield, with all eyes on them and to the roaring cheers of 88,000 fans, the Veros family was awarded a brand-new, mortgage-free home. David and Carolyn cried tears of joy and disbelief, and both the Bulldog and Gator faithful resounded in celebration as the Veros family received a gift that was so greatly deserved.
“I had no idea,” David says. “It was sheer shock.” The gift was part of the Operation Finally Home Program—a non-profit organization which brings together builders, suppliers, and supporters dedicated to building homes for wounded veterans, surviving spouses, and families—in conjunction with PulteGroup’s Built to Honor program™, which donates new, custom-built homes to injured veterans around the country. It’s hard to quantify how much the new home means to David, Carolyn, and their kids. They have been living in rental homes since his return from combat, and finances have weighed heavily on him; although he is now employed full-time, Carolyn’s commitment to being David’s caregiver has made them a single-income family for years. They were also frustrated by living in a series of neighborhoods where noise and other triggers often exacerbated David’s PTSD.
Their new home, which will be ready this spring, is in a quiet subdivision of St. Augustine. David adds that being relieved of rent or a mortgage payment—in a nice neighborhood with great schools—will make it easier for him to concentrate on healing, being present for his family, and excelling in his rewarding, new job.
“It just releases a tremendous weight off my shoulders, not having to worry all the time about providing the right place to live for my family anymore,” David says. “I’m still kind of in disbelief. I’m very, very fortunate and grateful for everything I have today.”
Georgette Smith is an associate of Regions.