- Feb 8, 2007
- Land of Swine and Maple Syrup
This is awesome! Now if only it happened more.
Not forgotten: Navy SEAL gets free house
Charity looking to sign up more wounded veterans
By Jeanette Steele
Originally published June 14, 2012 at 7:27 p.m., updated June 15, 2012 at 7:59 a.m.
From his wheelchair, retired Navy SEAL Elliott Miller raised the American flag at his new house Thursday. His house — all his and his wife’s — mortgage-free.
It lets him know, he said, that the United States remembers his sacrifice.
Miller and his wife, April, received a free home in El Cajon thanks to a partnership between Wells Fargo and Military Warriors Support Foundation, a Texas-based charity that takes foreclosed houses and gives them to veterans wounded in combat.
The injured SEAL was a particularly tough case; it took a year to find a house that could accommodate his wheelchair. Miller was gravely wounded in 2006 in Ramadi, Iraq, when his sniper position was hit by grenade, then he got caught in the blast of an improvised bomb.
He lost part of a leg. Brain injury claimed his ability to speak. Now he communicates by typing, quickly with one thumb, on an iPad, which then voices his words.
“It just means the world to me. It gives me and my family a sense of security, secure in the knowledge that I was not forgotten,” Miller, 34, said Thursday. “My family is safe in secure housing forever, a home that we will not have to think about selling and moving every two to three years.”
More than 180 houses have been delivered to Iraq and Afghanistan veterans over the past two years, including 44 in California, foundation officials said. Banks transfer the deed to the charity, which holds it for three years. After demonstrating good stewardship, the veteran receives the property free and clear.
Wells Fargo has donated 10 houses for veterans since 2009. Military Warriors Support Foundation also works with Bank of America, Chase and GMAC.
Retired Army Lt. Gen. Leroy Sisco, who founded the charity in 2007, said seriously wounded veterans often don’t have the fiscal wherewithal to buy a home.
“They get their retirement pay, but some of them just don’t have the finances to live,” said Sisco, in El Cajon Thursday to hand the Millers a ceremonial key.
“If we can take that worry and pain off the hero, because they are wounded and can’t get a job, we want to make sure that’s a part they don’t have to worry about.”
The Millers, who had been living in military housing, tried to buy on their own. But the San Diego real estate market made it impossible, the retired SEAL said.
Now they have what can only be described as quite a spread.
The two-bedroom hillside house overlooking El Cajon was constructed 64 years ago, according to Wells Fargo property records. It was last sold in 2004 for $565,000.
The bank foreclosed last summer, and the property was sitting empty, needing work on a leaky roof, a weak foundation and a damaged kitchen floor.
Despite artistic touches, such as mosaic tiles and outdoor patios cut into the hill, the house was worth about $225,000 at the time — in a neighborhood where property values had dropped 20 percent in a year.
Wells Fargo covered the bill for repairs and to install metal wheelchair ramps. The bank also remodeled the master bathroom to make it wheelchair friendly. The value of the work was about $140,000, said Tyler Smith, a Wells Fargo vice president.
“You prepaid your debt on this house,” Smith said to Miller, during Thursday’s ceremony. “So I hope you enjoy it.”
An Eagle Scout from Southeast Missouri, Miller enlisted in the Marines from high school. After one tour, he got out and attended college. But after the Sept. 11 attacks, he returned to the recruiter’s office. This time it was the Navy’s elite sea-air-land fighting branch, and two deployments to Iraq.
Miller’s dad, Joe, was his caretaker early in the recovery process. He said from the moment his son awoke from a coma, Elliott wanted to return to San Diego to be near his unit, SEAL Team 5, where he had served as hospital corpsman.
Eventually, after time at hospitals in Texas, Northern California and Nebraska, the SEAL made it back to San Diego, where he reported to the Navy hospital in Balboa Park. One of his physical therapists was a petite blonde named April. They later married and have a 10-month-old son, Joseph.
In 2009, Miller climbed the 103 floors of steps at Chicago's Willis Tower, just to prove he could do it with a prosthetic leg.
April Miller said Thursday that she has plans for a vegetable garden at the new house.
“It’s nice to have something that’s totally accessible for Elliott. There were lots of obstacles before, and now he can get around the house freely,” she said. “It’s also nice because it’s enabled me to stay home with the baby.”