ANDERSON, Ind. — Erica Senkowski is ecstatic her husband — wounded soldier Timothy Senkowski — will be coming home in a few weeks. But at the same time she’s concerned about where they will live.
The home that the couple and their two children shared when Senkowski was deployed to Afghanistan isn’t accessible for Tim and his wheelchair. The house belongs to mother and stepfather Tamra and JR Rigdon.
Tim, 30, has been recovering at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center since October 2011. He had been an Army infantryman deployed to Afghanistan in April 2011.
He was seriously injured in an improvised explosive device detonation. He lost both legs below the knees and suffered severe injuries to his right arm and buttock.
Family expected Tim to be released from Walter Reed in October, but Tamra said things have been moving faster than they ever imagined and were told just a few weeks ago that he would be leaving instead in April.
“It’s so overwhelming,” she said. “We were anticipating October and then all of a sudden we were given six weeks before he will be released.”
Tim wants to return to Anderson and live again with his family — Erica, 7-year-old Dusty and 2-year-old Embry. But it isn’t possible in their current home.
The Rigdons north Anderson home is too small for both families and Tim can’t maneuver well around the home in his wheelchair.
An effort by The Path Home organization to build Tim and his family a new home in Edgewood is progressing but construction won’t be completed until the end of the year.
So the family is looking for a home that would be suitable for Tim and the family to stay in until then — about seven to 10 months.
Tamra said the home doesn’t have to be American Disabilities Act compatible, instead it just needs to have doorways wide enough for a wheelchair. And because Erica is unable to work due to her own disabilities and Tamra quit her job to care for Tim at Walter Reed, their only salary is from JR until Tim begins receiving retirement pay 30 to 90 days after he is discharged.
“We are excited to come home and be a family again,” Tamra said. “But it is scary, a whole new experience. We have been gone for almost two years. Now we have to get used to the transition of coming home. It is kind of like starting all over again. But we will be close to family and friends and have more support. It is exciting but scary all at the same time.”
If the family is unable to find affordable housing then Tim will be unable to return home. He will have to stay at an inpatient facility in Virginia until the home is completed.
“He wants to come home, he wants to be with his family again,” Tamra said.
They need a three- to four-bedroom home in the Anderson or Lapel area so Dusty, who has autism, can stay in his current school.
Building a home
Bob Luenebrink, chairman of The Path Home, said progress on Tim’s home is going well. The Central Indiana Building Construction Trade has signed on saying they will provide material and labor for the home. Fundraising efforts have helped pay for the land, but they are in need of about $14,000 more to finish paying for the land before they can move forward.
“We are doing a tremendous amount of work to get through to the next stage,” Luenebrink said. “There are a lot of people in Indiana that have endured a lot. If we can find the support to help these people have a little bit easier life than we should certainly do that.”
The majority of the fundraising so far has been outside of Anderson, so he said they want to focus another push locally.
“This is a worthy cause — you are never going to find a better supporting someone who gave so much for our freedom,” Luenebrink said. “These soldiers stayed out in the combat zone through cold and dark and did their tour of duty in an extreme way. When they come home, the last thing they want to think about is whether or not they can get their wheelchair in the bathroom.”
While this is the first home that The Path Home has built for a wounded warrior, Luenebrink said this is just the beginning.
“They have the rest of their lives to live with the sacrifices they made,” he said of injured soldiers. “We want them to have a decent life and be able to get on with living a good life with their families.”
While the organization’s efforts are focused on the home for Tim and his family, a separate fund drive is taking place to help build a home for the Rigdons on the same property so they can help care for the family.
Donations of materials, labor and money is sought for that project as well.
“We all miss each other, our routines of being one big unit doing every thing together,” Tamra said. “We are ready to get back to our life as a family.”