- Associated Press - Monday, December 1, 2014

GREENWOOD, Ind. (AP) - On most days, Christopher Barnett wakes up before dawn in his Greenwood home and goes through the same routine.

He checks on his son, Vincent, and the two play reading games and do other educational activities. Barnett tries not to keep the TV on, except to let 15-month-old Vincent watch “Sesame Street.”

They go to the nearby Greenwood Park Mall to walk or to Craig Park to run around and get exercise.

Barnett, a U.S. Army veteran, moved to central Indiana in March. A tremendous gift helped him provide this life for himself and his son.

Through a national organization aiding injured veterans, Barnett was given a home in Greenwood, mortgage free. Without the burden of a mortgage, he is earning his college degree online in psychology and raising his son while looking for work.

“If we didn’t have this house, we wouldn’t be able to do that,” he told the Daily Journal (https://bit.ly/1rMIYqg ). “We’d be seriously struggling if we weren’t afforded this opportunity.”

The house was given to Barnett through by the Military Warriors Support Foundation. Focused on helping wounded combat veterans, the nonprofit foundation organizes programs, including home donation, employment assistance and recreational activities, such as family getaways, golf outings, hunting and fishing trips.

“We want to support wounded military and their families as they are transitioning into their new civilian life,” said Casey Kinser, vice president of programs at the foundation.

The foundation worked in partnership with Chase and CNO Financial Group to give Barnett his house.

“We target not necessarily specific organizations but specific themes. The armed forces is one of the themes that’s important to us,” said David Vega, senior vice president of underwriting and new business for CNO Financial Group.

Barnett was a medic in the U.S. Army, rising to the rank of corporal before his retirement in 2009. After joining in 2004, he served tours of duty in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Twice he was injured severely and almost died after an attack in 2006.

He was part of a personal security unit escorting a high-ranking official to a memorial service in Iraq when a roadside bomb exploded near their convoy.

The blast took out the engine and left tires, peppered the side of the vehicle with shrapnel and blew out its bulletproof glass. The concussion of the explosion knocked Barnett senseless. He was found vomiting, with blood coming out of his ears.

A military official called his parents and reported that he had been wounded in action. He likely wouldn’t survive, the official said.

The next memory Barnett has is waking up in a patient care ward.

He started getting headaches, painful migraines that forced him to miss military commitments. He suffered post-traumatic stress disorder and struggled with his brain injuries. His back and legs also were injured. A neurologist determined that too much damage had been done to his brain and that to further serve in the military would expose him to risks not worth taking.

That transition was difficult to accept, he said.

“I classify it as a breakup. I grew up as an Army brat, my father and mother were in it, my grandfathers were in it,” he said. “We have genealogy going back to the Revolutionary War on my mom’s side. At least one male in every generation has been in the military.”

After being discharged, Barnett went to Maryland to live with his father then moved to California in 2011.

He learned about the Military Warriors Support Foundation through the Army Wounded Warrior program, which advocates for and assists severely wounded soldiers and their families. Barnett filled out an application, listing Muncie as a potential home site. With family living throughout central Indiana, it would give him and his son a stable foundation to settle down in.

“We had picked the states that we were looking for, and Indiana was on it because my family is here, and this is one of the most friendly states I’ve ever been in,” he said.

The initial house they were hoping to get didn’t pan out. But another house was available in Greenwood, which foundation officials determined was better for Barnett’s income level and family size.

“We look at the size of the family for the house, but it’s also important that the candidates have the support system in the area and will have a lot of opportunity to succeed,” Kinser said. “(Barnett’s) family was a great fit. Looking at them, you could tell this house was meant for them.”

Veterans chosen to receive a house don’t have to make mortgage payments but are responsible for utilities and taxes. Applicants are carefully evaluated and matched to a property that they can afford.

The program also has a three-year financial literacy course, teaching the veterans how to balance their budgets, work to afford all of their costs and save for the future.

“I’m already fairly good at that. I’m on a fixed income, so I have to be extremely attentive of my budget,” he said.

Vincent was born in July 2013, and Barnett learned weeks after that they had qualified for the Greenwood house. When they came to Indiana to move in, though, they found that the renovations and repairs to the home were not finished.

They lived in a nearby hotel then leased an apartment until the house was ready in February.

Barnett and Vincent, as well as Barnett’s family, were honored Nov. 8 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse during an Indiana Pacers game. Vega ceremoniously presented them with the keys to the home, even though they had been living there for months. They were given a tour of the arena, received framed jerseys with their names on the back and prime seats just feet from the court.

“We got to meet the family, spend three or fours with them. They’re really nice folks, Chris Barnett in particular,” Vega said. “He is just a really humble, gracious guy.”

The ceremony was just the capstone on an unbelievable process, Barnett said.

“I was blown away,” he said. “It was amazing.”

With a home for him and his son, Barnett’s focus has become improving their new lives in Indiana.

He brought next-to-nothing from California, purchasing a few chairs, a couch and other furniture at a Salvation Army store in Indianapolis.

He’s unemployed and has received job offers that he’s had to decline since the cost of day care for Vincent and driving to the locations would be too much for his budget. Barnett has full custody of Vincent and uses his free time to be with his son.

After his time in the military, he attended the Art Institute of California, where he studied culinary arts. He has used that training to introduce Vincent to a wide variety of cuisine that most 15-month-olds probably don’t try.

“He loves short-ribs, blue cheese mashed potatoes, chipotle chicken tossed with black beans and rice,” Barnett said. “He loves Thai food, Vietnamese food, he loves it all.”

Barnett is taking online classes from Colorado Tech University, with a goal of earning a degree in psychology. His goal is to use his expertise in organizational psychology and work with companies to hire more veterans.

“A lot of it is a misunderstanding of the culture of veterans of these most recent incidents,” he said. “There are a lot of us who are unemployed or underemployed, which then exasperates the problem of suicides.”


Information from: Daily Journal, https://www.dailyjournal.net

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