- Associated Press - Saturday, November 26, 2016

NAPERVILLE, Ill. (AP) - The burden of spending roughly half his family’s income on rent isn’t even lifted yet, but Army Spc. Tony Chobanov of Naperville already feels better.

He’s been working on getting better for the past two years, and this most recent step is proving a giant help.

An Arlington Heights-based nonprofit called A Soldier’s Journey Home chose Chobanov, his wife, Abbey, and their three children as the 2017 recipients of a new house, built free for the family with donated materials and labor. The house, on 1.3 acres in Spring Grove donated by First Midwest Bank, should be complete by next June — just in time for the family’s lease on a house near Abbey’s parents in Lisle to expire at the end of the month.

“I was in shock,” Chobanov said, recalling his reaction to the news he’d be getting a debt-free house and a lot fewer financial worries. “I didn’t have words for it at first.”

Chobanov, 32, has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and a traumatic brain injury stemming from his four years in the Army, which took him through two tours of combat duty — one in Afghanistan and one in Iraq.

A Northwest Indiana native who finished high school in Eagle River, Wisconsin, Chobanov knew early on he’d be a military guy.

“My childhood was spent with a fake gun and a fake cigarette playing war. My superheroes were war guys in movies,” Chobanov said. “It was a dream to me and I got to live it.”

He doesn’t want to glorify his time in the service.

“But I very much felt like I belonged there,” he said.

That sense of belonging was gone, though, when he returned home in 2008. “It was hell,” he says. “Absolute hell.”

He worked a variety of physically laborious jobs, often putting in days of 12 hours or longer up to seven times a week, trying to provide for his family. His best efforts weren’t working.

So in 2014, Chobanov decided he needed to “work on getting better.”

He checked into a six-week inpatient PTSD treatment program through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, where he learned strategies to deal with his anxiety the proper way instead of “winging it.”

He and Abbey say a new house will help. Built on a cul-de-sac in a semirural area, the house will provide each of the children, 11-year-old Faith, 8-year-old Milan and 6-year-old Olivia, with rooms of their own.

“It’s next to a cornfield. Not much traffic,” Chobanov said. “Not as many people. Quieter is better.”

The calm setting will benefit the kids, too, as they’ll have freedom to roam a yard roughly the size of a football field without their father fearing so intently for their safety.

“My children have always been limited by my anxieties,” Chobanov said.

“Now they won’t have to leave the property to have a good time,” Abbey said.

Chuck Frankiewicz, project manager for A Soldier’s Journey Home, said Chobanov’s request rose to the top because it was clear his family deserved a helping hand. Previous builds have taken place in Tennessee and Georgia, near where other board members of A Soldier’s Journey Home live, but everything about the Chobanovs’ application from the charity’s home base in the suburbs showed the family’s “deserving” nature, Frankiewicz said.

The Chobanovs completed the charity’s application process after they were referred by another Arlington Heights-based veterans organization from which they’ve received assistance, Salute Inc. Frankiewicz said it was clear how much the lives of Tony and his family could improve with a new home in a quiet setting — minus the rent payment that eats up so much of their income.

The organization now is working to find a general contractor and subcontractors who will build the home. Also, students in architecture and construction classes at Rolling Meadows and Buffalo Grove high schools will help build walls and other pieces of the final product.

“It’s such a moving, almost life-changing experience to be part of a group of people who do this kind of work,” Frankiewicz said.

Other students from Northwest Suburban High School District 214 also will be involved as A Soldier’s Journey Home looks to raise $150,000 to help cover the cost of materials and labor the group can’t get from donations.

The Chobanovs say they’re not picky about the details of the house. They’re so grateful to be receiving a place to live that won’t drain their budget.

In nine months, Spring Grove will be the Chobanovs’ home. By then, with continued work on using the tools in his anxiety-management toolbox, Chobanov could be even closer to “better.”

“The main thing this is doing is freeing up my husband’s mind,” Abbey said, “so he can have the peace of mind he deserves.”


Source: (Arlington Heights) Daily Herald, https://bit.ly/2f0X8PS


Information from: Daily Herald, https://www.dailyherald.com

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