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Wounded by war, post-9/11 veterans healing in specially adapted homes

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Posted at 2:26 PM, Sep 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-07 17:26:35-04

SAN DIEGO, Calif. — United in grief, fear, and outrage, the attacks on 9/11 ignited a surge in patriotism in the U.S.

For some, the act of terror was a call to action.

“I wanted to join the military even before 9/11, but after 9/11 happened, I knew I really had to go in. Not go to college first, get a degree. I just went straight in," said Doc Jacobs, retired U.S. Navy Corpsman.

He was in high school at the time of the attack.

"We went and turned on the news, both with a bowl of cereal sitting there eating, getting ready for school. And then we saw the second plane hit the second tower," Jacobs remembers. "And we were just like, that’s not an accident.”

He put off college, taking a vow to defend the Constitution instead.

In 2005 he deployed to Ramadi, Iraq, where he worked as a combat trauma specialist for the next six months.

“Corpsman, medics, we’re the first responders for combat situations," said Jacobs. “I always thought it was better for me to fight on their turf. If I’m over there, then there’s peace in the States.”

But on Feb. 25, 2006, Jacobs was severely injured in an IED explosion.

With just two weeks left in his deployment, he'd now have to undergo two years of intensive physical, mental, and spiritual recovery.

"I ended up losing my left leg below the knee, three partial fingers, shattered forearm, broke my back, broke my neck. My right leg is a limb salvage. I only have two toes left on it.' said Jacobs. "But I went back to full duty. I passed the Navy physical readiness test and went back to full duty."

He'd continue to push past the limits of recovery, running eight half marathons, summiting Mount Kilimanjaro, trying out for major league baseball.

But dozens of surgeries later, he’s navigating a lifetime of recovery.

“Every time I’ve had a surgery, no matter how big or whatever the surgery is, recovery has been hell. It's just been more of survival.”

The stairs, narrow doorways, and carpet in his home are a hazard with his disabilities.

“The little things you and I take for granted in our homes, they can’t because homes aren’t typically designed for people in those situations," said Mike Thirtle, CEO of the Gary Sinise Foundation.

The nonprofit is giving back to those bearing the burden of war, building specially adapted smart homes for the nation’s most severely wounded heroes.

"We truly craft this to what they want," said Thirtle. "Where do you want a house built? What is that house going to look like? Talk about unique parameters."

If their application is accepted, veterans receive mortgage-free homes at no cost through the RISE program.

“I said, 'No, I don’t deserve one of those. I’ll be fine. There’s people with worse off injuries,'" Jacobs recalled saying more than two years ago.

Urged to apply by founder Gary Sinise, Jacobs was selected to receive a new home to reclaim his independence.

“Being in the house, I know my upcoming surgery on November 23 is going to be better. Because I can heal in comfort, heal in peace.”

After years of cartilage loss, Jacobs may lose his other leg.

“It changed my mindset," he said. "I don't have to just survive every surgery. Now, I can come home and heal.”

The nonprofit relies on donations to build specially adapted smart homes for veterans.

“This house was built out of love," said Thirtle. "About trying to do a little more, as Sinise says to us. Try to do a little bit more for veterans and first responders.”

Aware of the many veterans deserving of a home, Jacobs says the moment is bittersweet.

But he’s grateful for the gift of a fresh start.

"It really is a blank canvas now.”