Almost one in every 10 homeless Americans is a veteran, according to the most recent research from the National Alliance to End Homelessness. For veterans of the Iraq war and the War on Terror, this means coming home to a country ill-prepared for, and ignorant of, the challenges faced by veterans abandoning a life of constant terror and attempting to re-assimilate into the real world. And for veterans of the Vietnam and Korean wars, it could mean spending their last days without a roof over their heads. Not to mention the fact that many of these veterans came home from their service with life-changing disabilities -- add this all together and it makes the reality of a smooth transition back to civilian life nearly impossible.

That’s part of the reason why John Gallina and Dale Beatty founded Purple Heart Homes, helping veterans with medical issues from amputations to PTSD get one of the most important pieces to their puzzling new life stateside sorted out: a home base. Both veterans of the Army who volunteered for the North Carolina National Guard in 1996, Gallina and Beatty have seen firsthand the uphill path faced by vets as they come home from combat. So they decided to organize communities around building homes for these vets, allowing them to thank those vets for their service in a hands-on way and showing the former soldiers that their service is something to be proud of. The project can come with its own set of headaches -- dealing with contractors, even pro-bono ones, can grate on even the most well-meaning nerves, according to the pair. But neither Gallina nor Beatty has any regrets about dedicating themselves to their fellow veterans. We spoke to the founders about this important project.

Lydia Bittner-Baird

How did the idea for Purple Heart Homes come about?

After returning home and having gone through a deployment we realized there was not a manual as to how you returned to society. Our eyes were opened to a greater need in the veteran housing arena. Our belief is that every veteran fights for many individual reasons, but each has an ideal vision of their future, their own American dream, and that vision includes a home that is their safe haven -- their happy place where they can raise their family.

“When the veteran believes they served in the armed forces for people who respect and appreciate that service, they are proud.”

Purple Heart Homes does a great deal of community-based brick and mortar work. What are the benefits of getting all these folks involved in the project?

Often times financial burdens, a lack of financial education, physical limitation from injury, the mental and moral injuries -- these all cause depression resulting in lack of ambition and an inability to provide for themselves and their families. The community’s involvement and showing of care and concern inspires and encourages the veteran almost every time. When the veteran believes they served in the armed forces for people who respect and appreciate that service, they are proud. This pride results in he or she contributing those valuable lessons learned and experiences endured.

Lydia Bittner-Baird

Is there a subset of veterans who are in particularly dire straits at the moment?

We noticed many young, injured, recently returning veterans were getting some support and assistance while older veterans who served in Vietnam or Korea were getting little to no help from their community. We can’t help but attribute this at least in part to continued dissatisfaction with the political administrations that started those wars. Our older service members have ended up being the ones who are paying the price for their service in unpopular wars. Some of these same vets are now watching a younger generation receive a warmer welcome the likes of which hasn’t been seen since the 1940s. This to us was the injustice that started on the path to help all veterans with their housing needs and to encourage communities to take a part in that mission.

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How do you intend to expand that goal?

We just launched our advertising and promotion plans for communities to sign up to become  Purple Heart Homes chapters. We have 10 chapters signed up already to support disabled veterans from all generations, and we expect that number to triple in the coming years.

For more information on Purple Heart Homes and how your community can get involved, visit purplehearthomesusa.org.

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