Soldiers are coming back from war having survived injuries no one would have survived before.
Actor Gary Sinise’s Building For America’s Bravest is helping to supply them with houses catered to their needs that look like regular houses but are actual high-tech marvels designed to make life as easy as possible.
Homebuilders have never had to think before about the design challenges presented by someone like Brendan Marrocco, the first surviving quadruple amputee to come home from Iraq. He and now dozens of other severely wounded veterans like him–triple and quadruple amputees and soldiers paralyzed by IEDs–compose a new population in America created by the particular weapons of these wars and the medical advances that have saved them. And they need new kinds of homes.
DESIGN FOR WOUNDED WARRIORS
It’s tremendously daunting, though, from a design perspective, to think about how the limitations of severe war injuries change the way someone goes through their most private, mundane movements. Wheelchairs, for instance, are much harder to use on carpet. From the seat of one, bathroom mirrors become useless. A veteran in a wheelchair with the use of his arms, or prosthetics, might be able to stir a pot on the front burner of a stove. But he can’t see what’s inside of it.
The Gary Sinise Foundation and the Tunnel to Towers Foundation have been trying to build a new generation of smart homes for severely wounded veterans since Marrocco first came home. Sinise, a longtime advocate synonymous with veterans since playing one in the film Forrest Gump, first met Marrocco at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington after Marrocco was injured in 2009.
Sal Cassano, New York City’s fire commissioner, later asked Sinise to help the community raise money for a new home for Marrocco on Staten Island. Then, while plans were underway for a fundraising concert with Sinise’s Lt. Dan Band, word of another quadruple amputee arrived. And then a third. There was need for not just one home, but a new kind of home, which would be individually tailored to the needs of each wounded veteran, heavily lined with technology on the back end, and controlled from tablets and smart phones. The two foundations ultimately paired to create a program, Building for America’s Bravest, that’s now aiming to construct dozens more smart homes similar to the one Marrocco moved into in the summer of 2011. Each one costs about $500,000 to build, although they’ve so far been constructed with tens of thousands of dollars of donated labor and material.
“WE WANT TO GIVE THEM INDEPENDENCE”
These homes speak to a modern confluence of technology and war. America has never had a class of returning veterans quite like Marrocco. But before now, it also hasn’t been possible, technologically speaking, to build such homes for them.
“They’ve given pieces of themselves, and they are going to be remembering for the rest of their life what they were like before this injury and before their service,” Sinise says. “When they get into these houses, we want to give them independence, which will give them a shot, a chance. Having your own home is where everything begins.”
Every veteran will require different touches and amenities, and so the foundations and the builders working with them must reinvent the smart home each time. Some of the veterans have amputations low enough on their legs to wear and walk around on prosthetics; others will be wheelchair bound for life. Tyler Huffman, a veteran in Missouri, is paralyzed from the waist down but still has full strength in his upper body.
In thinking about each of these new homeowners, Sinise is motivated by the memory of the Vietnam era, when, he says, no one cared for the veterans who came home. “That was shameful for our country to treat our warriors that way,” he says. “That made life very, very difficult for our Vietnam vets. Not only did they have to go and struggle with the memories of losing buddies and losing parts of themselves, and the trauma of war, but they had to come home to a divided country that treated them like crap. That weakened our nation.”
It’s almost impossible to imagine such a reaction today, in a country now divided over just about everything but the treatment of veterans.
via FastCoExist – EMILY BADGER
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