TAMPA - Retired U.S. Army Infantryman Nicholas Salerno of Oldsmar drives the nearly 90-minute round trip from Palm Harbor to the Haley V. A. Hospital in Tampa several times a week. But the trips are necessary. Salerno lost much of his right leg when he stepped on an IED while serving in Afghanistan in 2010.
He didn't think much would come of it when a Federal Recovery Coordinator suggested he apply for a mortgage-free home through the Homes 4 Wounded Heroes program with the Military Warriors Support Foundation in partnership with Bank of America.
"I was just like, 'There's no way I'm going to get this.' But I did it because there was one in Tampa and that's where I wanted to live," Salerno said.
Two months later, he got a phone call and was interviewed as part of the application process the next day. The day after that Salerno received another call informing him that he had got the house.
"I was ecstatic when they told us we got the house. I literally asked the lady, 'Are you kidding me?' I did not believe it. This doesn't seem real."
On Wednesday morning, Salerno was handed the keys to a home in Tampa Palms. Bank of America donated the home. Neighbors said that the home has been vacant for four years.
Salerno now has just a five-minute ride to the V.A. hospital. He hope to one day work as a physical therapist at the very hospital that provides him treatment. He's enrolled at USF in an attempt to fulfill that dream.
Karyn Phillips, who works for the Military Warriors Support Foundation as a family mentor, will work closely with the Salerno family over the next three years to help them transition into full-time homeowners.
"During the three years, we help them get their credit restored. We help them pay off their debts. We help them with their savings. We help them become responsible homeowners. As the mentor, I teach them and help them through the process of home ownership. I will be with that family every step of the way. Through good, bad and ugly," explained Phillips.
Phillips says the mortgage free program is available to any combat-wounded veteran that wishes to apply.
To learn more about the Homes 4 Wounded Heroes program, visit militarywarriors.org .