Making a house a home for wounded veteran

September 5, 2012

Caleb Getscher’s new home means a lot to him.

The 21-year-old Marine lance corporal lost both of his legs and part of an arm while on duty in Afghanistan last year. His parents’ home in Chaptico, where he spends weekends when he is not at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, was not easy to get around in a wheelchair or with prosthetic limbs.

Now he is able to live more comfortably in an addition built to that house, thanks to a program administered by Patuxent Habitat for Humanity. Volunteers and elected officials gathered at the house Aug. 25 to dedicate the new living space.

The addition offers ample room in which Getscher can move around in a wheelchair or by using prosthetic legs.

Getscher was injured June 18, 2011, when he stepped on an improvised explosive device. His legs and his left arm below his elbow were amputated to prevent infection from spreading through his body.

Doctors also determined that Getscher had suffered a traumatic brain injury.

Getscher went home to face numerous surgeries and seemingly endless hours of rehabilitation. He remains determined and said he continues to improve.

“I’ll get right back into it after this surgery,” Getscher said.

Many community members have offered assistance with the addition and in other ways, he said.

“They go out of their way to help out,” the young veteran said. “They’re good people.”

One of the community members is self-described “Chaptico boy” Billy Fitzgerald.

“Any time I can do something for someone around here, I try to,” he said.

Fitzgerald stopped by during the dedication ceremony to give Getscher a brass door knocker fashioned to look like a Marine emblem.

Don Parsons, president of the Patuxent Habitat board, described the addition as similar to an in-law suite that “allows the [extended] family to all work together to help Caleb and his family.”

During the renovation, Getscher married his high school sweetheart, Emily Thirion, in June.

The couple now have plenty of room in the new addition, including for their 2-year-old daughter, Camily.

Getscher and Camily can spread out on the floor with Camily’s toys and play for hours, Emily Getscher said. The addition offers them their own space, but with the convenience of being near family members if assistance is needed.

The design of the addition ties in perfectly with the architecture of the original home.

“Better than we could have imagined,” the veteran’s father, William Getscher, also a veteran, said of the renovation.

He said that his son is still going through rehabilitation but that he will succeed

Getscher was the first recipient of a Patuxent Habitat for Humanity grant aimed at helping improve the living conditions of veterans.

Patuxent Habitat for Humanity was awarded one of eight $100,000 grants from Habitat for Humanity International and the Home Depot Foundation for a program called Repair Corps. The local group has done two other projects and is reviewing applications for more work in St. Mary’s and Calvert counties.

The program is dedicated locally to Gary Senese, a Marine veteran from Compton and an avid Habitat for Humanity volunteer who died last summer. Members of his family were at the Getscher household for the dedication ceremony.

Patuxent Habitat for Humanity can spend as much as $15,000 per home on critical repairs. The group spent $10,000 for the Getscher addition. The remaining $50,000 was paid through donations large and small, including one from the Semper Fi Fund. The nonprofit Marine assistance group “came in at the end” and paid for the completion of the project with a $40,000 donation, said Pam Shubert, executive director of Patuxent Habitat for Humanity.

Veterans who have received an honorable or general discharge and have low to moderate incomes in Calvert or St. Mary’s counties are eligible and may apply for the program by calling 301-863-6227 or 410-326-9050 , or at www.patuxenthabitat.org. Volunteers are also needed to assist with the projects.

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