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Hope and homes for disabled veterans

Holly Johnson | Improvement Center Columnist | September 6, 2013

As injured troops make the journey home from combat operations across the world, many struggle to transition back to civilian life. Young veterans seeking employment have found it especially difficult to get jobs. In fact, a recent report from the U.S. Department of Labor confirms that the unemployment rate for young veterans is skyrocketing. According to an economic news release from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Gulf War II-era veterans who served in Iraq, Afghanistan, or both experienced an unemployment rate of 10.9 percent in August 2012. Unfortunately, the numbers prove much worse for younger veterans, with those age 18 to 24 enduring an astounding unemployment rate of 20 percent in 2012.

These statistics are more than merely numbers on a page. They represent the lives of real people who have made great sacrifices. They also paint a sad portrait of the struggling heroes who deserve better opportunities than those to which they've returned. And although all veterans have earned the right to become gainfully employed, those with injuries often have the worst time of it. Seriously wounded veterans may never be able to work again due to the severity of their injuries, leaving them without sufficient means to fend for themselves.

Homes for disabled veterans: a needed solution

Fortunately, a construction supervisor from Massachusetts, John Gonsalves, founded a non-profit organization in 2004 to fill one of the most basic needs of disabled, unemployed veterans -- housing. After watching a news story featuring injured troops returning from Iraq, Gonsalves wanted to help the cause. He started looking for a way to donate his time and expertise to build homes for disabled veterans, designed to meet their specific needs. Being unable to find any existing organizations tackling the issue, he did what not too many other concerned citizens might do -- he created one.

Homes for Our Troops is a 501(c)(3) non-profit, non-partisan organization that focuses solely on assisting those injured in combat operations since September 11, 2001. They provide assistance to veterans from all branches of the military, mainly by working to build new homes for those who qualify. Through generous donations and the tireless work of numerous volunteers, Homes for Our Troops is able to give each qualified veteran a mortgage-free home to call their own. The organization is committed to expanding its efforts and has currently completed projects in 38 states.

Assistance to veterans: home of one's own

On April 25, 2006, Army Staff Sergeant Luke Murphy lost his right leg above the knee and severely injured his left leg while serving in Iraq Although he will never be able to reclaim everything he's lost, Homes for Our Troops hoped to ease his burden by making him the recipient of a mortgage-free home. At the groundbreaking ceremony, Murphy expressed his hope for the future and displayed gratitude for the organization's work. "Thank you for helping to make my life easier," he said. "The daily obstacles I face will be greatly reduced with a home built by Homes for Our Troops. Your actions will help reduce the stress and pain I deal with, which in turn will make me very happy and comfortable…I will be empowered by the independence I will have and will be pleased to be a functional citizen again."

For those interested in contributing to the cause and wondering about its accountability, Charity Watch, an independent watchdog of philanthropic organizations, awards Home for Our Troops the status of "Top-Rated Veterans & Military Charities" and reports that they spend only 9.6 percent of their revenue on administration and fundraising. The Homes for Our Troops website offers a wide variety of ways to make donations so you can give back to the men and women who have bravely and honorably sacrificed so much.