President Obama on Monday signed a law which extends a program named for a late National Guardsman from Iowa. Andrew Connolly of Dubuque spent 16 months in Iraq before returning home in August 2007. A year later, doctors discovered a cancerous tumor in his spine related to his military service.
Andrew quickly lost his ability to walk and applied for a federal veterans grant to help build a wheelchair accessible home. Connolly died just under one year ago. His wife, Jennifer, remains in the home.
“With this house, he was able to have a roll in shower, so he was able to shower himself and get into the kitchen,” Jennifer Connolly said. Jennifer is now caring for the couple’s son, Brody, who has a neuromuscular disorder that restricts his breathing and keeps him confined to a wheelchair.
The “Andrew Connolly Veterans Housing Act” was set to expire, but now the benefit is extended for a decade. “I really wish he would have been able to get the phone call when the bill had passed, but I think right now he is probably smiling down on us and giving us a thumbs up,” Jennifer said.
In May of 2011, Andrew Connolly testified before a panel in Washington, D.C. about the frustration he felt when he was confined to a wheelchair while living in a duplex built in 1890. The federal grant allowed him and his family to move into the wheelchair accessible home.
“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.
Andrew Connolly died on August 26, 2011. He was 28 years old.
By Lauren DeWitt, KCRG-TV, Cedar Rapids