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Operation Finally Home

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Operation Finally Home

On Oct. 12, 2004, Corporal Donny Daughenbaugh was shot in the face just outside Baghdad. He survived—but the bullet is now permanently lodged in his head. Although he is lucky to be alive, migraines and seizures will plague him for the rest of his life.

Today, Donny is retired from the U.S. Marine Corps. In order to help provide for his family’s expenses when he returned home, he applied for a Texas Sentinels Foundation for Life Scholarship. That process brought him to the attention of Daniel Vargas, a retired U.S. Air Force Technical Sergeant.

Vargas runs a program called “Operation Finally Home” (OFH) out of League City, Texas. Born out of the Bay Area Builders Association Support Our Troops effort, the program provides custom-made homes to wounded and disabled veterans as well as to widows of the fallen in an effort to get their lives back on track.

Vargas works with Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense to hand-pick veterans from Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom who will receive homes. “We are looking for families that are trying to move forward and just need a hand up,” he said.

So far, OFH has completed four homes and has four more in the works. But that’s only the beginning. Vargas plans to have 50 homes in the works by December, including one in St. Charles, Ill., thanks to the Greater Fox Valley Builders Association.

“Television has sanitized the war,” Vargas added. “Our soldiers come home, go to the hospital, and that’s when the real battle starts. Their spouses have to become full-time caretakers, which means the families lose 50% of their incomes. These families too often wind up in debt, live in homes that are not conducive to their injuries, or risk losing their homes altogether. Our goal is that no matter what happens, these men and women will always have a roof over their heads and will feel secure and taken care of.”

With the help of donors and sponsors, OFH is able to build a $300,000 home for just $47,000. The homes are mortgage free, and OFH pays taxes and insurance for the first two years. Donny and his family will move into their completed home in League City this summer, allowing both him and his wife to return to school and finish their degrees.

“They [OFH] have removed a huge financial hurdle for my family and me,” Donny said. “My wife has been able to go back to school, which is something she has wanted to do for a long time, and my kids will be in an amazing school system. Who knows what kind of opportunities they will have because of the help we’ve received.”

Donny’s recovery has been ongoing. “I have my bad days with the migraines,” he said, “but I don’t consider myself disabled. I’m more enabled thanks to the help I’ve gotten. I don’t have to let my physical limitations get in the way of doing anything that I did before I was injured.”

Donny has made it his mission to raise awareness for the program. Thanks to his efforts at the 2010 International Builders’ Show, Operation Finally Home is spreading from coast to coast. They’re now working with builders in Montana, North and South Dakota, North and South Carolina, Virginia, Louisiana, and California.

“Every little bit helps,” Donny said. “Anything a builder or dealer can do, it really is a little bit that goes a long way.”

Some builders have found that while a whole home isn’t possible, they can help with
remodeling projects that include wheelchair ramps, widening doors, or installing railings in bathrooms. What seems simple may actually be life-changing to a young veteran confined to a wheelchair.

“With everything else going on in the country right now, the war has taken a back-burner. It doesn’t affect our daily lives,” Vargas said. “We need your help. This is not about whether you’re for or against the war. This is about the young men and women who volunteer to serve.”

For more information about Operation Finally Home, visit

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