Prominent OrlandoAttorney Dan Newlin has represented hundreds of veterans, mostly ininjury-related claims, but recently, he threw his support behind Home At Last, aspecial project of West Orange Habitat for Humanity.
Founded in 2007 byWilliam C. Criswell, Home At Last aims to present at least one mortgage-free,special needs home every year, to a veteran who has been permanently disabledin the Iraq or Afghanistan wars.
And, Home At Last isjust the kind of deserving project Newlin, always in search of a worthy cause,wants to contribute to. He gets somber, quietly reflective, when speaking ofU.S. veterans who have been severely wounded and return home with very fewsupport systems in place.
"The men and women whosign up to serve in our military take huge risks, in their personal lives, sothat we can live a very free and superb life here in the United States," saidNewlin. "Anyone that takes such risks and sustains serious catastrophic injuryas a result of their own personal desire to provide us freedom, deserves theattention of all of us, especially those who own businesses."
The challenges forreturning veterans are many and varied and, in particular, special housingneeds loom large among those who are permanently disabled. Moreover, federal,state and local governments provide inadequate support to help veteranstransition from military service to the civilian work force.
Criswell, a World War IIveteran said, he was troubled by the lack of special needs housing for the"tremendous number of veterans returning with serious permanent disabilitiesaround 2007." He was so concerned that he approached West Orange Habitat forHumanity which assists in building homes for deserving people and pitched hisidea of mortgage-free, accessible homes for combat wounded disabled vets.
"The Board of Directorsof Habitat readily agreed and the first home was built in 2008," he said.
To date, Home At Lasthas presented four homes to veterans and their families, with a fifth under construction.
Criswell said, the homesare completed entirely by donations and in-kind contributions of constructionlabor and materials. He responds cautiously as to whether Home At Last canbuild more than one home a year, as much depends on fundraising. But, futureplans of Home At Last will be the subject of discussion among its majorstakeholders next month, he said.
"We concentrate on thefamily, on a vet with a family and are determined that homes will be turnedover without a mortgage," Criswell added.
One veteran who knowswhat that's like is U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Jeffery Kelly, who servedeleven-and-a half years, including two tours in Iraq, before being injured by aRocket Propelled Grenade (RPG) and mortar fire, nearly five years ago.
Kelly, who returned homein 2008, with a severely injured leg, in extreme chronic pain and a braininjury said, it was a challenge at first. He had to figure out how to deal withhis medical issues, how to get around and dealing with daily life, generally.
Then, Home At Laststepped in and Kelly, his wife Michelle, and their two young daughters, Jadeand Lindsey, received the keys to their new home in 2011.
"Its been absolutelyamazing and like a dream come true," he said of his new digs in Oakland. "Ithas taken a huge stress off of the family, just knowing that we have a place tolive and a home in which I can get around and we can grow."
While Kelly is largelyconfined to a wheel chair and could only walk short distances with the aid of acane, he won't change a thing, he says.
"As I look back oneverything, my years of service and think about how I have grown, I have lovedevery minute of it," a smiling Kelly said. "I would do it again if I could."
And perhaps this is whatmotivates Newlin, who laments the modest support for returning vets, "many ofwhom have given their legs, their arms and in some instances their eyesight, incombat."
"There is nothing betterthat we can do as a community and society to provide support for our returningveterans," he said. "Home At Last is a wonderful organization and quitefrankly, it is a great honor for me to support this project."
The Law Offices of Dan Newlin &Partners, located at 7335 W. Sand Lake Road in Orlando,plan on expanding their services, in order to assist more veterans in thefuture.