ELYRIA — Marine veteran Eric Hunt said he copes with post-traumatic stress disorder and a traumatic brain injury from his two tours in the Iraq War as best he can.
Hunt, 34, said he was knocked unconscious and sustained a concussion from an explosion during the first battle of Fallujah in 2004 and still suffers from “massive” migraine headaches.
“Luckily, I was out of the kill zone,” Hunt said last week.
Hunt, who served from 1997 to 2009, also has long-term left arm and right leg injuries. He said he is easily startled and suffers combat flashbacks that make sleep difficult.
“I’ve buried a lot of people in my life in the military,” Hunt said. “It never gets any easier.”
Hunt said the trauma has made it impossible for him to work and has hurt his family’s finances. However, help is on the way.
Hunt, his 26-year-old wife, Cheryl, and their four young children plan to move into a new mortgage-free home in Jefferson in Ashtabula County in March thanks to Operation Homefront.
“I’m still in awe,” Eric Hunt said.
The nonprofit group provides foreclosed homes to eligible veterans donated by banks. Operation Homefront has provided homes to 258 disabled veterans and their families since the housing program began in 2012, according to Sarah Davis, the group’s executive director. The Hunts will be the eighth family in Ohio to receive a home.
The Hunts married in 2008 and moved to LaGrange in 2010 and Elyria in 2011. Cheryl Hunt is from Euclid and Eric Hunt is from Mentor.
The Hunts credit Tim DeWolf, executive director of the Ghost Rider Foundation, a Mentor-based nonprofit group that aids traumatized veterans, for helping them when they moved to Lorain County. DeWolf said he found out about Eric Hunt through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and as a Marine combat veteran who served in the Vietnam War, he can relate to Hunt.
DeWolf said he suffered from PTSD after retiring and helped Hunt get psychiatric help through the VA. DeWolf said navigating the VA bureaucracy can be a maze.
More than half of the 1.56 million veterans who’ve returned from the Afghanistan and Iraq wars sought care through the VA, according to a 2013 study by Harvard economist Linda Bilmes, who analyzed Department of Defense statistics. Half of Afghanistan and Iraq vets have applied for permanent disability benefits, according to the study. One-third has mental illness including anxiety, depression and PTSD, and 253,000 have traumatic brain injuries.
DeWolf said some foundation members and supporters live in the Jefferson area and will help with Eric Hunt’s transition.
“It’s amazing what some of these kids can do with the right break and the right guidance,” DeWolf said. “There were so many opportunities for him to quit, but he has an incredible moral strength about him.”
The Hunts said they found out about the housing program from one of Eric Hunt’s Marine representatives from the Wounded Warrior Project, a group that helps mentally and physically injured combat veterans. They applied in November and learned the good news Feb. 10. A key ceremony will be Tuesday in Jefferson.
The Hunts say they’re grateful to Operation Homefront as well as other groups and friends who’ve supported them.
“You know that people want to give back to veterans, but to take it to these levels, it’s like a miracle,” Cheryl Hunt said.
Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Operation Homefront is a nonprofit 501(c)3 formed in 2002 to financially assist veterans and their families. It has a $57 million annual budget and about 120 employees nationwide.
- In 2012, the group began providing mortgage-free homes donated by banks to veterans through its Homes for the Homefront program.
- Through last week, 374 homes had been donated by banks with 258 occupied by veterans, including seven in Ohio.
- While mortgage-free, veterans are responsible for all other expenses involving the home after they move in such as insurance, homeowner association fees and property taxes.
- A caseworker assists each veteran and their family for up to two years after they move to ensure financial stability.
- Veterans can apply for the program at operationhomefront.net
SOURCE: Operation Homefront