A wheelchair bound Iraq war veteran is now getting around much easier thanks to the help of volunteers and an Iowa Congressman. Andrew Connolly of Dubuque spent 16 months in Iraq with the Iowa National Guard before returning home in August 2007. A year later, doctors discovered a cancerous tumor in his spine and said it was related to his military service.
Connolly testified before a panel in Washington, D.C. last week and recalled the frustration he felt when he was eventually confined to a wheelchair while living in a duplex built in 1890. “The list of tasks that I was able to do around the duplex grew shorter and shorter,” Connolly said. “I became so reliant on my wife and others to help me accomplish simple tasks. Taking a shower, for instance, became an hour long duty that required an extra set of hands…and an awkward plastic bench that offered terrible support.”
While Connolly was still able to walk, yet knew he’d eventually be in a wheelchair, he applied for a Veterans Administration grant to retrofit his home. He was denied several times. Eventually, Iowa Congressman Bruce Braley heard about Connolly’s story and pushed the V.A. to award the grant. “With the grant approved, I was able to build a house that would be suitable for my family. Construction on our new house began on June 21, 2010 – the same time I became wheelchair bound,” Connolly testified. Several construction crews donated their time and supplies for the project.
Connolly has a young son who has a neuromuscular disorder and will also be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. “Today, I am in my new house. Today, I took a shower by myself in a five by five (foot) roll-in shower with handicap controls. Today, I cooked my own breakfast because I was able to reach all of the ingredients. Today, I was able to watch my son sleeping in his bedroom because I could (fit) through the doorway with my wheelchair,” Connolly said.
Shortly after his testimony, the Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Development approved a bill introduced by Braley. The Andrew Connolly Veterans’ Housing Act extends the grant program to help injured and disabled veterans retrofit their homes after they return from combat.