Local News

'Labor of love' eases life for disabled veteran, family

Posted April 29, 2010 5:42 p.m. EDT
Updated April 29, 2010 9:01 p.m. EDT

— For a disabled Fort Bragg veteran, a 20-year-long struggle has come to end. It's no longer an ordeal to move around his own home.

Tom Caldwell, a retired Special Forces soldier, survived the 1989 invasion of Panama but was injured in a helicopter crash five months later. He was paralyzed from the neck down and has been in a wheelchair ever since.

Even getting around his own home can be hard.

"I was hitting the walls, hitting the doorways," Caldwell said.

Those problems ended Thursday, when Caldwell and his wife, Rona, moved into a new home on Anna Belle Lane in Wade. It was custom built to handle his wheelchair.

"This was a labor of love," said Patricia Driscoll, president of the Armed Forces Foundation, a Washington, D.C.,-based nonprofit that helps veterans and their families.

Driscoll said she immediately felt the need to help the Caldwells when she met the couple in their old house in Hope Mills.

"I walked in there and met Tom and Rona and fell in love with them. Their house was in pretty bad shape," Driscoll said.

The foundation found that it would be more cost effective to build a new house than to retrofit the couple's original home. Aaron's Furniture donated all new furnishings for the couple.

The foundation, funded with private donations, also renovated Caldwell's old home in Hope Mills with new landscaping, paint and floors. The house goes up for sale next week.

"Hopefully, the money he'll make from that will help him for his future and his family," Driscoll said.

Caldwell said the new, wheelchair-friendly home and furnishings are something that his family never could have afforded on their own. The couple receives benefits from the Veterans Affairs Administration, but caring for their mentally challenged son is their financial priority, he said.

"We would never have been able to do something like this on our own," Caldwell said.

The fact that the new home and furniture was a gift makes it even more precious, he said.

"I couldn't begin to put a monetary value," Caldwell said. "I really can't explain it. It's just a great feeling."