Blind vet gets donated condo, fresh outlook on life

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As a Navy SEAL fighting in Iraq, Sgt. Ryan Job could see the dusty streets and war-torn buildings of the Anbar province, until he was shot in the face by a sniper.

Job lost his right eye.
There was some hope for his left eye, but damage to the optic nerve was too great.
Job, 26, was left blind, dashing his dream of becoming a pilot.

After recovering at Veterans Affairs facilities in three different states, and after his discharge from the Navy, he returned to his home near San Diego only to find limited opportunities for work.

Through the support of the national non-profit Sentinels of Freedom Scholarship Foundation, Job is now settling into a donated Scottsdale condo and getting help adjusting to civilian life.

He hopes to finish his bachelor's degree and eventually choose a career.

"I'm not thinking about war anymore," said Job, who is being honored Thursday at a ceremony at Gainey Ranch Golf Club as part of a welcome home fundraiser. "I'm thinking about getting adjusted in Scottsdale and getting a job."

Job moved to the Valley in recent weeks with his wife, Kelly, after being set up with a local Sentinels of Freedom sponsor.

Sentinels of Freedom started in 2003 in California. The group's founder, Mike Conklin, a father of three Army Rangers, learned about soldiers' life-changing injuries after one of his sons was wounded in Iraq.

The organization helps soldiers - many of them amputees - with four-year scholarships, mortgages, physical rehabilitation and other planning beyond what the federal government provides.

Help to get restarted in life
Job is one of nine wounded soldiers that Sentinels has provided with rent-free homes and other benefits through donations from civic leaders.

The organization, however, has a list of nearly 3,500 struggling veterans nationwide who could use the help. Most of Sentinels' focus is in California.

When Job moved to Scottsdale, he had a network of people waiting to unload boxes, move new furniture and help him find an online college program to complete his bachelor's degree.

A sniper shot Job during an operation in western Iraq on Aug. 2, the same day in which another SEAL was killed. Job, who was positioned on a rooftop, never saw his attacker. He remembers little.

"I could hear (the other SEALs) talking to me, but I was fading in and out," he said. "There's a lot I can't talk about."

Job was evacuated to a U.S. military hospital in Germany. He recently wrapped his rehab at a VA facility in Palo Alto, Calif. after spending time at other facilities in Maryland and Florida.

Despite multiple surgeries, rehabilitation and other services, Job said he is frustrated that the VA was slow to send all his files between different facilities.

"The services they provided me are adequate," Job said. "It's the computer systems, though. Your paperwork might sit on someone's desk for months until you get the services you need."

Developing Scottsdale links
After learning about Sentinels of Freedom, Job got in touch with the group's leaders and was eventually accepted for the scholarship program. His personality and resolve made him the ideal candidate to help launch the organization in Arizona.

Howard Lein, owner of Re/Max Excalibur Realty in Scottsdale and a volunteer team leader with Sentinels, donated his own investment condo near 92nd Street and Redfield Road for the Jobs to live in rent-free until they are prepared to get their own place.

The idea, Lein said, is to join wounded soldiers with volunteers to help them acquire the benefits they are entitled to while also going beyond to help the soldiers advance in everyday civilian life.

"I have my doctors, my attorney, my CPA and my network of business contacts to help him with mentoring, getting a job, that kind of thing," Lein said.

Re/Max helped with start-up costs, he said, but the group wants to establish a regular system for corporations to donate on a monthly basis to help more veterans.



VA response in Valley
Though he is finished with outpatient therapy, Job will soon be registered at the Carl T. Hayden VA Medical Center in Phoenix, where he will be in touch with experts for other needs.

The hospital saw an influx of nearly 4,000 new patients in recent years during the ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Sentinels of Freedom helps disabled veterans like Job get the care they need both through the VA and elsewhere.

"The fact that they're doing this to help our veterans is a wonderful thing," said Paula Pedene, public affairs specialist for Carl T. Hayden Center. "It just so happens is that the first person they have (in Arizona) is someone like Ryan who was blinded."

The Hayden Medical Center, like other VA hospitals, has two blind specialists who will work with Job to help adapt his home and lifestyle based on the disability.

Job said he is learning a computer screen-reader program that will help him navigate the Web. Navigating an online college course might be more difficult, though.

Despite the challenges, Job said he is confident that his network through Sentinels of Freedom will help ease the transition with everything from learning the public bus routes to setting up business internships.

"I see this going nationwide," Job said. "(Kelly and I) don't want this to be about us. Once I'm back on my feet, we'd like to help the next group of guys make the same transition."

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