Non-Profit Outfits Home for Iraq War Vet

A paralyzed Iraq war veteran is looking forward to a new, more independent life. A non-profit is buying and retrofitting a home for him in the Washington suburbs.

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ED GORDON, host:

I'm Ed Gordon. Next time, on NEWS AND NOTES: we'll talk with two women who are using the law to fight against adultery, rape and abuse in their native Cameroon. They're the focus of a new documentary, Sisters-In-Law.

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GORDON: A paralyzed Iraq war veteran is looking forward to more independence. A non-profit is helping by preparing a home to fit the needs of this Vet's new life.

Nancy Marshall-Genzer, reports.

NANCY MARSHALL-GENZER, reporting:

Here's how 19-year-old Eugene Simpson gets to the kitchen in his parent's house in the Virginia suburb of Woodbridge, where he and his family are living now.

(Soundbite of wheelchair moving)

Mr. EUGENE SIMPSON (Iraq War Veteran): Going outside on the back deck.

MARSHAL-GENZER: Going up the stairs is out of the question. So Simpson unlocks the sliding glass door and maneuvers his wheelchair out of the renovated basement where he lives.

Simpson pushes the chair across a back deck and up a sidewalk, to a lift installed next to the front porch.

Mr. SIMPSON: And basically, all I do is just...

(Soundbite of lift)

Mr. SIMPSON: ...roll up here, turn it on, and it just lifts me up to the front.

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MARSHALL-GENZER: When the lift stops, Simpson rolls his wheelchair onto his parent's front porch, unlocks the front door, and wheels into the kitchen. It takes a lot of effort. On good days, it's not so bad. But when it's raining, or snowing, the outside trek to the kitchen is a hassle. And Simpson says it's harder still when the pain from his nearly two-year-old wounds flares up.

The army staff sergeant was paralyzed from the waist down when a roadside bomb exploded near his humvee in Iraq.

Mr. SIMPSON: Basically it's my back and my stomach; it's really tight, the muscles and things like that; it's really difficult with this injury. You really don't know what's going on so my body just changing totally, you know, from being, so very active, and you know, to being confined to a wheelchair.

There's different things that go on, different muscles that ache, and stuff like that, so.

MARSHALL-GENZER: When his muscles ache it's especially hard for Simpson to get up to the third floor, where his parents and four children sleep. He has to crawl up the stairs. He only attempts it twice a week to tuck the kids in to bed.

Simpson wasn't complaining, but the family was looking for a better solution, and eventually came across a Web site for Homes for Our Troops, a nonprofit that builds houses or renovates existing ones for disabled veterans.

Homes for Our Troops Founder John Gonsalves, found a home near Simpson's parents that has four bedrooms on one level, enough room for Simpson, his wife, and their four rambunctious sons. Gonsalves says the home will be completely retrofitted.

JOHN GONSALVES (Founder, Homes for Our Troops): We'll have things like a sink in the kitchen that he'll be able to roll underneath. His shower will be set so that he can roll right into a seat inside the shower, and we'll make sure that the bathroom has grab bars around the toilet. It's a totally different situation for somebody like Eugene.

The things that most people take for granted, any change in the height of a floor is not good for somebody who's in a wheelchair.

MARSHALL-GENZER: The house will all be one level, with entrance ramps for Simpson's wheelchair. Simpson says his new home will bring new, much-needed independence.

Mr. SIMPSON: Just all the things I used to do before, I'll be able to do in my new house. Just go in every door I want to, just to say that I can do it, you know. And to get anything I want out of my house and to access everything.

MARSHALL-GENZER: Simpson says that once he and his family are settled in the new house, he'll feel ready to go back to college, and get on with his life.

Simpson says someday he'd like to work with disabled veterans just starting out on the long road to recovery he's left behind.

For NPR News, I'm Nancy Marshall-Genzer.

GORDON: This is NPR News.

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