Military Life Veterans Benefits Housing

This company is teaming up to provide safe, healthy homes for veterans in need

Navy Federal Credit Union partners with Rebuilding Together to make no-cost home repairs and safety modifications for those in the military community and others

Navy Federal Credit Union partners with Rebuilding Together, through its Veterans at Home program, to make no-cost home repairs and safety modifications for those in the military community and others in need.

More than half a century ago, William Johnson, a veteran of the U.S. National Guard and Army, moved into the right half of a “side-by-side” duplex in Arlington, Va., a stone’s throw from the quiet cemetery where countless veterans rest in peace.

Johnson and his wife, Daisy, rode the ups and downs of life from their cozy red-brick colonial. They raised a daughter, who now lives nearby. They joined a local church, where Johnson once served as the congregation’s deacon. And they devoted their professional lives to nursing care and patient services at Virginia Hospital Center.

A few years ago, Daisy passed on, leaving Johnson, 89, alone in his beloved home. Since then, paint had begun to peel, a couple of window screens had torn, and closet doors didn’t shut properly. Johnson couldn’t safely access the basement because the handrail was too low, and the cinder blocks leading from his back door to the parking area wobbled when he stepped on them. Johnson, who uses a cane to walk, had fallen a couple of times, and life at home was becoming increasingly dangerous. But as a retiree on a fixed income, Johnson could neither repair his home himself nor afford to hire a professional. Moving wasn’t a realistic option either.

The team. Photo courtesy Navy Federal Credit Union.

Navy Federal Credit Union, which serves military communities and embraces and encourages service among its nearly 25,000 employees, stepped in to help. The credit union teamed up with Rebuilding Together, a national housing nonprofit that makes no-cost safe and healthy home repairs, to help Johnson. More than a dozen Navy Federal volunteers signed up to make needed home repairs at Johnson’s home this fall alongside staff from Rebuilding Together.

“We’re going to be like soldiers today and work hard,” Patti Klein, told Executive Director of an affiliate of Rebuilding Together that supports Arlington, Falls Church and Fairfax County, to the volunteers who had assembled in Johnson’s front yard on crisp Thursday morning in September. “We’re going to get dirty, and we’re going to get sweaty, but we’re going to get a lot done.”

That they did — tackling a list of projects, ranging from carpentry to painting to landscaping, in a single day. The highlight came that afternoon when volunteers hung a new, starch-stiff American flag on Johnson’s shed in the back patio. The new flag replaced one that had faded over the past two decades and stood alongside several other star-spangled banners flanking the proud patriot’s property. “You are so wonderful,” Johnson told the crew that day, a wide grin spreading across his face — only faintly lined despite his nine decades. “Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you.”

Johnson sharing his gratitude. Photo courtesy of Navy Federal Credit Union

Economic pressures

Johnson’s home is one of three that Navy Federal supported this fall in partnership with Rebuilding

In Atlanta, more than 20 Navy Federal and Rebuilding Together staff spent a day with a homeowner who served two decades in the U.S. Marine Corps. While at her home, they built and planted flower beds, repaired siding and gutters, installed a handrail along the driveway, fixed a leaky water pipe and worked alongside a contractor who installed a walk-in tub.

Farther west, in Dallas, Navy Federal and Rebuilding Together volunteers worked on the home of a disabled veteran of the U.S. Navy, where they installed a handrail, painted, landscaped and more. They’re but three of countless veterans who face challenges accessing safe and healthy housing. More than 2 million veterans are financially insecure, often putting even simple home repairs out of reach. And many veterans face additional economic pressures due to the soaring cost of housing and higher prices for other basic necessities due to inflation.

Further, many veterans have a disability or other health challenges, often connected with their military service, which makes it difficult to move around the house, bathe or otherwise live safely, especially as they age. Indeed, more than one-third of veterans who served since the post-9/11 era faced housing challenges as they transitioned to civilian life, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

To address this need, Navy Federal has made it a priority to support veteran homeowners in partnership with Rebuilding Together. “We believe in coming together for the community and for people who have served our military and our country, and this really embodies that,” Sun Bayless, senior vice president of Real Estate Lending at Navy Federal — and a volunteer herself, dressed in jeans and a t-shirt — told her fellow volunteers at Johnson’s home that Thursday in September. “We’re ready to roll up our sleeves.”

A slice of the story

In addition to low-income homeowners in the area, Navy Federal volunteers have helped refurbish facilities of nonprofit organizations, several of which serve the many veterans. In 2015, Navy Federal worked at the United Service Organization (USO) Warrior and Family Center at Fort Belvoir in Virginia, which serves injured and ill soldiers and veterans, families and caregivers (and is the largest USO in the world).

All told, Navy Federal has sent 1,450 volunteers — including President and CEO Mary McDuffie — to Rebuilding Together projects and has contributed more than 10,000 hours of volunteer service — for an estimated value of $380,700. Much of the work takes place during workdays, and many Navy Federal staff use paid leave to participate. The volunteer work on behalf of veterans and others has “ripple effects” throughout the community, Klein said. “It’s had a huge impact.”

But that’s just a slice of the story.

Since 2010, Rebuilding Together has completed more than 10,500 projects in support of veterans with corporate and community partners, including Navy Federal, whose support goes back some two decades. These projects significantly improve homeowners’ safety, economic security and mental and physical health, according to a recent impact report released by Rebuilding Together. As one veteran expressed in the report: “I don’t know what to say or how to thank you. I could never have afforded these repairs.”