ALBUQUERQUE, N.M., Dec. 9, 2013 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Three roadside bombs took their toll on José Contreras' body during his tour in Iraq with the U.S. Army.
A photo accompanying this release is available at http://www.globenewswire.com/newsroom/prs/?pkgid=22608
Mr. Contreras spent 18 months in Iraq during 2005 and 2006. His first experience with an improvised explosive device (I.E.D.) was when one exploded 10 to 20 feet in front of his Security Operations unit, which was responsible for protecting military supplies and personnel traveling through the country. It wasn't considered a major incident. No one was seriously injured.
The second incident was worse. The vehicle Mr. Contreras was in ran over a pressure plate I.E.D. — a bomb buried in the road's asphalt. It exploded as they drove over it.
"We lost the whole front end (of the vehicle). The engine and everything was gone," Mr. Contreras said. "I thought my gunner had died, but he was fine. His face had hit the butt of a 50-caliber machine gun. He broke his nose and cracked his teeth."
Mr. Contreras was shaken, but at the time wasn't aware of any physical damage to his body.
The third incident occurred toward the end of his tour. His security unit was hit by an explosive device similar to an I.E.D. that was set off with an infrared detonator. The explosive hit the side of his vehicle.
"We were really lucky to the extent that the weekend before we had just changed our armor on the vehicle so we had extra protection," he said.
Metal shards came through the vehicle's first set of doors but stopped at the second. Had it penetrated both sets, Mr. Contreras believes he would have died that day. Shrapnel ripped through one serviceman's thigh and bruised the vehicle's driver. Mr. Contreras escaped with superficial wounds, but his back wasn't so lucky. It caused him a lot of pain and, after the explosion, he could no longer drive Army vehicles.
After returning to the states about three months later, Mr. Contreras served two more years at El Paso's Fort Bliss before receiving a medical discharge and honors that included the National Defense Medal. He went home to Albuquerque, New Mexico, and had major back surgery, three surgeries on his right shoulder, and one on his right knee. He has optic nerve damage in one eye and loss of hearing in one ear. He also suffers from seizures, but strong medicine has kept those at bay since late last year.
He and his wife, Lisa, purchased a foreclosed home that required significant repairs, but with Mr. Contreras unable to work and his wife at home as a full-time caregiver to her husband and their eight children, money was tight.
It was then that Chuck Crisler, assistant vice president of public relations at Kirtland Federal Credit Union, through his ties with the Wounded Warriors Program at the Albuquerque VA Hospital, met Mr. Contreras. Mr. Crisler knew Mr. Contreras was the perfect candidate for the Housing Assistance for Veterans (HAVEN) program offered by the Federal Home Loan Bank of Dallas (FHLB Dallas).
HAVEN is a unique grant program offered through FHLB Dallas members, such as Kirtland FCU, that assists veterans and active duty service members who have been disabled in the line of duty since September 11, 2001. It provides grants up to $7,500 to support necessary home modifications.
"Kirtland Federal Credit Union is so proud to be able to facilitate the transfer of these funds to deserving veterans," said Julie Nielsen, vice president of finance at Kirtland FCU. "What we try to stress to these wounded warriors is that this grant is not charity. They earned this money with their sacrifice and we are happy to be able to give back to them in some small measure."
A $7,500 HAVEN grant funded the cost of repairs and modifications to the Contreras house where Mr. Contreras lives with his wife and four of their eight children. Another $250 was provided by Kirtland FCU for a total award of $7,750.
The award allowed the family to remove an evaporative cooler and replace it with central air conditioning. It paid for a ramp should Mr. Contreras eventually require a walker or wheelchair and was used to cement a front courtyard where the lawn had been sloped and considered dangerous for potential trips and falls.
Mrs. Contreras was thrilled to get the HAVEN grant. "It has been a blessing," she said. "We were shocked to hear that this was available. Everything came out so beautiful and accessible. It's really nice."
Kirtland FCU has a special interest in the HAVEN program and spreading the word to as many veterans and service members as possible. The credit union was founded in 1958 by 10 airmen.
"We believe it's important to give back to our veterans who sacrificed so much for us," Mr. Crisler said. "The HAVEN grant honors our heroes and we are absolutely thrilled to be a part of it."
About the Federal Home Loan Bank of Dallas
The Federal Home Loan Bank of Dallas is one of 12 district banks in the FHLBank System created by Congress in 1932. FHLB Dallas, with total assets of $31.3 billion as of September 30, 2013, is a member-owned cooperative that supports housing and community development by providing competitively priced loans and other credit products to approximately 900 members and associated institutions in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, and Texas. For more information, visit the FHLB Dallas website at fhlb.com.
The photo is also available via AP PhotoExpress.
CONTACT: Corporate Communications Federal Home Loan Bank of Dallas www.fhlb.com (214) 441-8445
Source:Federal Home Loan Bank of Dallas