The Difference of a Day

August 7th is a revered day in military communities across the United States. On this day in 1782, George Washington created the Purple Heart Medal — a military decoration awarded to those wounded or killed while serving in the U.S. Armed Forces. It is on this day that Purple Heart Homes launches our annual campaign, Operation Veteran Home Renovation, in an effort to get more communities engaged in the housing needs of older, ailing veterans. Additionally, this day is significant in another big way, specifically to Purple Heart Homes.

August 7th was Dale Beatty’s birthday.

Born on August 7, 1978, the Statesville, NC, native joined the North Carolina National Guard in 1996. It was during his time in the North Carolina National Guard when Dale met John Gallina — another Statesville, NC, native. Little did they know at that time the extent of adventures they would endure together. Most of you already know the rest of the story leading up to the foundation of Purple Heart Homes. For those of you who don’t, you can learn more about that story in the recently published book co-authored by Dale and John titled Wounded Homecoming: The Uphill Journey of Wounded Veterans from Battlefield to Homefront.

If you are someone who began following Purple Heart Homes recently, you may not be aware that Dale passed away unexpectedly on February 12, 2018. That was a difficult day (a severe understatement) for all of us at Purple Heart Homes, Dale’s wife and three children, the rest of his family, friends, and anyone who truly knew him. Since then, people have asked, “Will Purple Heart Homes keep going on? Will you keep helping veterans without Dale?” The answer has always been: yes, absolutely.

Dale and John did not create the Purple Heart Homes mission ten years ago for it to end when one or both of them are no longer present. There will always be veterans who need safe places to call home. The mission to provide housing solutions for Service Connected Disabled Veterans that are substantial in function, design, and quality, fit to welcome home the fighting men and women of America, is not limited to two individuals. Our mission relies on each and every community across the nation realizing the importance of a safe and accessible home for the ones who defended our own homes. Working alongside Dale, I know exactly what he would say to anyone who doubts the success of Purple Heart Homes moving forward. He would say what he always said, which is, “Keep recognizing the veterans in your neighborhoods. Keep recognizing their needs. If you keep doing that, our mission will live on. Join our Hearts of Honor Club. Start a Purple Heart Homes Chapter in your local community. There are multiple layers of impact when a project is completed for a veteran, and that impact extends to the people in each veteran’s community.”

You are always invited to join us in our movement of improving veterans’ lives one home at a time. We needed them when they served, and now they need us. There are so many ways to get connected and learn the true impact of our mission.

236 years ago, the Purple Heart Medal was created to honor our wounded and fallen Servicemembers. 40 years ago, Dale Beatty was born. 10 years ago, Dale and John co-founded Purple Heart Homes to honor their fellow Servicemembers with safe and accessible housing. Today, you can make a difference to the veterans in your community and beyond.

Happy Birthday, Dale. In closing, I’ll leave you with one of the final notes that Dale wrote while we were still working on Wounded Homecoming: The Uphill Journey of Wounded Veterans from Battlefield to Homefront

Dales WH Note

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Veteran Smarts: How to Navigate the Real Estate Market

Photo by Julián Gentilezza on Unsplash

The following post was contributed by Cassie Steele, Real Estate Financial Expert

It’s no secret that veterans are celebrated for noble acts of service on the domestic front when it comes to housing. Yet there are times when vets need to serve themselves and join the ranks of homeownership. It’s a bustling activity –  over 6 million new and existing homes were bought in 2017 – but it’s also one that can be advantageous for those that serve our country bravely, provided they know what to seek out.

Knowledge is Power

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs offers special home loan benefits to vets and their families. These benefits, which can range from purchasing a home without a down payment to helping you get a lower interest rate through financing, are poised to help vets save time and money while also navigating the potential pitfalls of homebuying.

However, it’s not enough that you know the ins and outs of this program. It is vital for veterans to work with a realtor that has a thorough understanding of how VA loans work. A lack of knowledge here may translate into the realtor trying to sell you on a house that doesn’t qualify for the benefit. Ask the realtor as many questions as you can about the process. If it becomes clear that they don’t have a firm grasp on how things work, look elsewhere.

Your House as an Investment

If you’re a veteran, there may come a time where you may decide to return to service. You may decide that you would rather relocate to an area in the country where you previously served. Because of this, it’s wise that you look at your house not just as your home, but also as an investment property. You may want to consider a home whose style and size may be easier to sell. You also may want to take a look at rental rates in your neighborhood if you’d prefer to turn it into a rental property.

Use Your Resources

Above all else, don’t assume you know everything when it comes to homebuying. There are a wide host of resources beyond the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs that can provide you with helpful hints and solutions that can make homeownership a more attainable dream. Taking the time to check them out may save you some serious scratch.

Ultimately, using the right resources and the right people can make securing the right home for you and your family an easier process. As a veteran, you’ve given so much for others in this country.  These tools allow others to return the favor.

Qualifying for SSDI if You Already Receive VA Disability

The following post was contributed by the Outreach Team at Disability Benefits Help:

There are several different disability programs available. The Veterans Administration (VA) oversees VA disability benefits, which provides benefits based on service-connected disabilities and is not income-based. The Social Security Administration (SSA) oversees the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program, which offers disability benefits to those who are unable to work regardless of the nature of the condition. However, to receive SSDI you have had to work enough to earn sufficient credits.

You can receive VA disability and SSDI at the same time, which will boost your income significantly. Often, disabled veterans have their VA disability and SSDI claims filed and being processed at the same time. However, if you already receive VA disability and are applying for SSDI, your VA disability approval might be able to help your claim. Disability Determination Services at SSDI will see that you have already been approved for disability benefits through one government agency and will give that consideration.

If you are a veteran who qualifies for disability benefits from the VA because of a service-connected disability it is better to also apply for SSDI benefits because usually they provide a more significant level of compensation than other assistance programs, such as SSI or a VA pension, which are needs-based on your resources and financial need. If you get approved for both VA disability and SSDI, your monthly income will exceed the limits for those needs-based programs.

How to Qualify for SSDI After Being Approved for VA Disability

There are significant differences between VA disability and SSDI benefits. To be approved for VA disability, you have to have a service-related disability. To be approved for VA disability, you don’t have to have a total disability rating. You can receive VA disability benefits even with a compensable rating that is as low as 10% and a disability rating as low as 0%. On the other hand, to be eligible for SSDI, you have to be considered completely disabled.

It is important to know that the VA disability rating is not always permanent. If your conditions or impairments worsen, you can increase an increase in your disability rating. The VA uses your ability to participate in substantially gainful employment (SGE) as the threshold to determine if you are eligible for disability benefits. If your disability is severe enough that it keeps you from working enough to earn the amounts that are set forth by the SGE guidelines, you are much more likely to meet the requirements to be approved for monthly benefits.

To meet the SSA’s definition of disabled and to be approved for SSDI benefits, you cannot be able to perform substantial gainful activity (SGA) due to an impairment that has already last or that is expected to last for a minimum of one year or lead to your death. The SSA’s SGA concept is very similar to the VA’s SGE rule. Both the SGE and SGE rules serve the same function to prove that the disabled individual cannot work enough to earn a substantial gainful income. The SGA figure set by the SSA was $1,130 per month for those who are disabled and $1,820 per month for those who are legally blind.

A significant difference between SSA disability and VA disability is the nature of the disability. The VA only awards benefits for disability for illnesses or injuries that are a result of military service. While the VA might only consider you to be 10% disabled per their guidelines, you might have other medical conditions that are not related to your military service that render you completely disabled per the SSA guidelines. The SSA considers all of your medical conditions when you apply for disability benefits.

The claims process for VA disability and SSDI can be very time consuming and stressful. While your initial benefits claim can be denied, you can appeal that decision and present additional evidence to support your claim. In the end, after your claim has been appealed twice, you can go before an administrative law judge for a ruling on your disability claim. You can choose to work with an advocate or an attorney for better odds at a faster approval of disability benefits.

Caregivers: The Unsung Heroes

What all does a Service Member come home to when they return from the military? Typically, “home” involves more than just a house. It’s the relationships — family, romance, friendship — that come to mind when people think about what “home” means to them. The same goes for Veterans. However, when a Service Member becomes a Veteran, at least one of their relationships is bound to change. A wife, husband, child, parent, or friend, evolve into a new relationship: a Caregiver.

Many Veterans struggle adapting to their renewed civilian life. Such is the case for the Caregiver learning to navigate their new role. It’s a journey that’s experienced mutually by both parties, but involves different perspectives. Imagine a train ride. The view through the windows sitting on the right side will be different from the windows sitting on the left side, but the destination is the same. The destination for the Veteran-Caregiver relationship will depend on varying factors. However, the destinations tend to fall within similar lines: a restored sense of comfort, happiness, and peace.

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U.S. Marine Veteran Jackie Drakeford and his wife, Geneva

“They changed.” That’s the answer you tend to receive after asking, “How’s (Veteran’s name) doing since he’s/she’s come home?” Getting to know the person you once knew is tricky.  How much has changed, and how much is still the same? Certain words may weigh heavier. Certain sounds might illicit irrational reactions. Certain images could alter reality. How can you identify someone’s triggers if you never see what they’re carrying?

It takes an immense amount of empathy, patience, and love, to serve as a Caregiver for a Veteran. It’s an effort that tends to go unnoticed by others, as people tend to focus their attention solely on the Veteran. If you are a Caregiver for a Veteran, please know that we, at Purple Heart Homes, always appreciate your strength and support. The challenges you endure do not go unnoticed. Thank you for the vital impact you leave on our Veterans.

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Theresa and her husband, U.S. Air Force Veteran Alex Sawchyn

Barriers

When you hear the term, “Wounded Veteran”, how do you picture the wound? Are they missing their legs? Did they lose their hearing and now require a hearing aid? Were they involved in an IED explosion and sustained 3rd degree burns? These are all serious and valid wounds. However, do you ever consider the invisible wounds?

Traumatic Brain Injuries, Post-Traumatic Stress, Depression, and many other mental, moral, and emotional wounds tend to be brushed under the rug when people talk about the barriers soldiers face once they return home.

Marriages are falling apart. Public outbursts of violence are increasing. Approximately 20 Veterans commit suicide every day. With all of these realities, why aren’t more people addressing the heart of the matter? Why aren’t more people willing to talk about the invisible barriers Veterans struggle with day-in and day-out?

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PTSD and marriage. Tech Sgt. Nadine Barclay/Airforce

Everyone can see the physical barriers, and most people are willing to make accommodations for those physical barriers. There are plenty of wheelchair ramps, handicap-accessible restrooms, and handicapped parking spots available in the public. “Out of sight, out of mind” — isn’t that the excuse people use whenever they neglect issues that aren’t right in front of them? Is that the case for society, or simply that people are uncomfortable accommodating that which they cannot understand? Regardless of the reason, let’s go through some basic ways to support Veterans who struggle with invisible barriers:

  • Listen to them: If a Veteran wants to talk — about anything — be willing to listen. Hear them out, and acknowledge what they’re saying. You may not be able to relate to what they’re experiencing, but allowing them to confide in you offers solace. Some Veterans don’t want to talk. If that’s the case, saying a simple, “I’m here for you if you ever want to talk about anything,” can be just as impactful as listening. Making yourself available should the occasion ever arise reminds them that someone cares about them and what they’re going through.
  • Don’t be too quick to judge: Have you ever noticed a “seemingly normal” person walking around with a service dog, and thought something along the lines of, “They don’t seem like they need a service dog. They just want an excuse to bring their pet inside pubic spaces”? Let’s reframe that thinking. Consider this: that “seemingly normal” person might have a service dog to alert them when they’re about to have a seizure. Consider this as well: that “seemingly normal” person might have a service dog to calm them down whenever their PTSD is set off. Whatever the case may be, the appropriate thought process should be more like this: “I see this person has a service dog, but don’t see any obvious reasons why they need one. There must be a less obvious, unseen issue that warrants the need of a service dog.” Consideration can go a long way.
  • TALK about invisible barriers: Bringing awareness to the fact that many Veterans deal with issues that cannot be seen helps alleviate future misconceptions and break down any associated stigmas. Two common barriers that many Veterans face are “social” and “thought” barriers. Does the community have a negative perception of the Veteran who chooses to be anti-social? Does the Veteran have a severe lack of self-esteem due to the fact that they struggle in a way that most people don’t understand? Advocating for Veterans’ rights includes advocating for invisible barriers, and talking about those barriers creates a stronger sense of support.

At Purple Heart Homes, we create barrier-free homes for Veterans to promote freedom from the barriers they face inside of the home. If a Veteran cannot find comfort inside their home, then how much more difficult is it for them to find comfort outside their home? We make every effort to address any and all barriers a Veteran may face in their daily life. What are some of the ways you support Veterans who struggle with barriers?

About The Author

Most of you who are already familiar with Purple Heart Homes know who John and Dale are. Some of you, especially our donors, know who Kerry is. Now that you’re reading this blog, you’re probably wondering, “Who is Melanie?”

I’m the Communications Specialist for Purple Heart Homes. I’m also the granddaughter, niece, cousin, and friend to several Veterans.

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The above photograph is my uncle, a 1st Lieutenant in the Army during the Vietnam War. He is also an Army Commendation Medal, Air Medal, and Bronze Star recipient. Miraculously, he sustained no serious injuries during his service. It’s my uncle’s stories that made me realize the true severities of the Vietnam War, and just how miraculous his survival actually is. It’s my uncle, along with the rest of my military family and friends, who inspire me to pay it forward to all of our nation’s Veterans.

My role in Purple Heart Homes pertains mainly to writing, events, and contact with the media. However, I also provide an outlet for discussion… through this blog. I look forward to engaging with and learning more about all of our followers and supporters. I hope that you look forward to engaging with and learning more about Purple Heart Homes as well.

So, now that you know about my connections to Veterans, let me ask you this:

How are you connected to a Veteran?

Why Did We Start A Blog?

As a nonprofit organization, we understand the value of community. We understand the fire that burns within a heart that wants to help. We understand that when those hearts come together, great things happen.

So, why did we start a blog?

There are a multitude of intentions behind this blog. First and foremost, we, at Purple Heart Homes, want to establish and maintain a stronger connection with the hearts in our community. We want to engage more with the hearts in our community. Who is our community, you ask? It’s all Veterans, their families, and their caregivers. It’s all of our donors, volunteers, staff members, and supporters. It’s anyone who cares about the Veterans who served in our nation’s military. It’s anyone who has a family member or knows someone who served in our nation’s military. Don’t think you’re part of our community? Whether you realize it or not, you are most likely already a member of our community. Do you have a grandfather who served in World War II? Or, perhaps, an uncle who served in Vietnam? Has anyone in your family ever served in the United States military? Then yes, you are a member of our community, because every day we help Veterans who are not that much different from the members of your family who served.

Moving forward, we’ll dive into a variety of topics. Personal stories, Veterans’ issues, current events, and behind the scenes of some of our projects will make up the majority of our blog posts.

Have we told you about our challenge coin?

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Challenge coins are rooted deeply in military history. Today, the challenge coin tradition has expanded to include all types of organizations. These coins enforce solidarity and hold members to a certain standard. Purple Heart Homes has created our own challenge coin to give to our Veterans and anyone interested in becoming a valued supporter.

Consider this blog as us presenting you with our challenge coin. Welcome to the Purple Heart Homes family. Let’s have a discussion.