Veteran's home getting an upgrade
CHICAGO — More than 20 pieces of metal lodged in Phillip Bell's back make it too painful for the veteran to repair a fixer-upper home he purchased when he was discharged from the Army five years ago.
"When the muscles start moving too much, you can actually feel the metal cutting your muscles from the inside out," he said.
That's why the Home Depot Foundation is repairing his home for him as part of its "Celebration of Service," a nationwide veterans' appreciation program. More than 300 projects across the country are expected to be completed in two months to thank veterans for their service, said Shannon Laylo, store manager of Home Depot in Frankfort.
"We're essentially doing what he wanted to do with the home," she said of Bell, 36.
The Disabled Patriot Fund, a nonprofit based in Orland Park, recommended his house, said Ray Baranak, an organization board member. The group helped Bell after his injuries in 2006, and in turn, Bell talks with other wounded veterans. An improvised explosive device hit his Humvee in Iraq, giving him a fractured back, whiplash, nerve damage and moderate traumatic brain injury, he said. He also suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Bell now can walk on his own again, but running is not possible nor is making major improvements to his home by himself. He no longer can work as an electrician and lives on disability income that isn't enough to pay for the improvements.
"Before when I wasn't wounded, I was able to do some of the stuff myself," he said. "But now in order to get this done, it costs three or four times (as much) because you have to rely on other people."
His tri-level home was buzzing Monday morning with employees from Home Depot and area construction crews who volunteered their time and skills. With $12,000 in donated materials, worn-out and scratched floors are being replaced in the living room and kitchen, a bathroom damaged by a leaky toilet is being replaced, and new windows and doors and drywall and insulation are being added to a utility room and attached garage.
"It was almost a dream come true with Home Depot and the amount of stuff they're willing to do," he said. "I think it just makes it easier to move on with your life."
In November, Bell will graduate with two bachelor's degrees from DePaul University, where he has been studying accounting and management information systems. Next, he said he and his live-in girlfriend can look forward to the next phase of their lives together — marriage.
"It kind of gives us both a chance to move in here and look at this house as our house now," he said.