This past Saturday, Carrie and I attended a gala fundraiser for the Gary Sinise Foundation. The star-studded event was held at the posh and over-the-top home of one of the most famous Republican strategists and wordsmiths, Dr. Frank Luntz. Carrie and I were plainly outside our normal political comfort zone, but we were very pleased to attend, pleased to participate and certainly surprised in many ways about what we learned.
The Gary Sinise Foundation was established by “Forrest Gump” actor Gary Sinise, to primarily provide custom, need-responding housing to returning war veterans who’ve suffered major limb loss or other crippling injuries. Mr. Sinise has done a fine job building a capable national organization that’s built or modified some 50 custom homes nationally, with dozens and hundreds more, planned.
These are no ordinary homes. Double, triple, and even quad-amputees require very special facilities if they are to regain “normal” living, empowering them with full mobility in their homes. In these custom-designed and built homes, bathrooms are often as large as bedrooms, allowing for wheelchair space, stabilizing hardware, and special sinks, toilets and tubs. Kitchens too, are custom designed with lower counters and sinks, and appliances positioned for easy access and reach. Thresholds are built fully level and all homes are, of course, single story. Building these homes is a huge effort, involving volunteers and contributors from land owners to architects, suppliers and contractors.
My company, Landscape Development Inc., became involved when a client asked us to design and build the landscape for a quad-amputee vet in the San Diego area and a triple-amputee vet in Kern County. We’re a veterans-preferred employer and feel great commitment and compassion to these particular veterans who’ve truly given everything, as recovery is long, painful, hard, and sometimes never realized as injuries are too severe.
Our veteran in San Diego had done five tours of duty in the Middle East. He was two weeks away from returning home and settling into a non-combat role. “A bad day at the office” is how this astonishing man described his injuries. He signed up for service as a career soldier, he said he knew what he was getting into when he got into it, and he held no one responsible for any of what he’s gone through, except himself. “I just missed it,” is how he described stepping on to the IED that tore through his body. No self-pity. No bad attitude. Just perseverance and can-do spirit.
Our veteran ended up spending over two years at Walter Reed Hospital getting refitted with artificial limbs and generally getting put back together. He’s got computerized legs and left arm and when he spoke to our crowd, he didn’t bother with anything strapped to where his right arm had once been.
His speech to us was riveting. Indeed, anyone feeling sorry for themselves would have greatly benefited from his profound story and pep-talk about life. He wants to be independent. Doesn’t want to be a bother or weight on anyone. He just wants to return to life and do his own thing with his family and earn his own way. And this, despite all his loss and giving.
Oh, how he appreciated the home that Gary Sinise and all of us provided. He can’t live in an ordinary house. Too many steps, no room for wheelchairs, too constrained for him to live life as a regular guy with a regular family. Now, our brave veteran has a beautiful 3,000-square-foot single-story home with every room thoughtfully designed and built for mobility while still looking like a normal house.
He loves it. His wife loves it. And his young son loves it. Through Gary Sinise, our group of donors have been able to dramatically improve a life that would not be possible without the gift from hundreds of caring people and companies.
The fundraising event itself was, however, peculiar. Attended overwhelmingly by the rich and famous of right-wing proclivities, it was nationalistic and militaristic. Not only were the sacrifices of our soldiers celebrated, at points, combat and war itself was idolized in song and spoken word.
And this is where they lost Carrie and me. We support Gary Sinise and will continue to do so. The crowd was super-generous and selfless in their giving. Still, while soldiers were honored (and war glorified), one thing was missing in the mix.
Why do we keep this cycle? Why so many back-to-back wars, nearly continuously since World War II? Big wars, little wars, secret wars. We can’t keep up. The cost is too high. Neither our own government nor the contributors can keep up with the care of our thousand and tens of thousands of severely wounded vets.
Our veteran did two years in a hospital and was outfitted with the very latest in automated prostheses. His cost of treatment alone is in the millions of dollars. His house, well over one million. And he’s just one of tens of thousands needing significant, permanent treatment, therapy, and permanent facilities.
At some point, we’ve got to stop this permanent, continuous warring and militarism cycle. America has committed and spent multiple trillions of dollars in war and security-related expense since 9-11. It’s unsustainable economically, morally and medically. We are overwhelmed with both the human need and the bills that come due from all the losses.
We’re are so happy to help the veterans assisted by the Gary Sinise Foundation. It’s a joy to work with them and build literal life-changing dream homes. But, oh – when you see it close up with open eyes – you also see we’ve got to end permanent war before the wars themselves consume the very country they were supposed to protect.
Gary Horton is a Santa Clarita resident. His column, “Full Speed to Port!” appears Wednesdays in The Signal.