Hillsborough Code Enforcement officer helps launch program aimed to save veterans' homes

Posted at 8:08 PM, May 10, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-11 07:30:15-04

James Palmer, 74, can barely get around. Losing his kidneys got the best of him.

"It sucks all of the energy out of you," said Palmer.

On dialysis treatment, the army veteran couldn't help but let the condition of his house go.

"That's how I have gotten behind," Palmer said. "I have been in and out of the hospital for the past two and half years."

Thanks to a Hillsborough County Code Enforcement officer, an entire community is answering the call for help.

From overgrown weeds and grass, garbage piled up in his yard, and a roof threatening to come down, Palmer needed help.

It was Palmer's polluted pool that got Hillsborough County Code Enforcement officer Christine Zien-McCombs to come calling to offer assistance.

A former detective, Zien-McCombs started noticing a common thread

"Elderly veterans and disabled veterans and veterans in general I would say. 'Oh my gosh, they have a lot of code violations and they can't take care of it themselves.'" said Zien-McCombs

Palmer faced fines of nearly $1,000 a day. He relied on Social Security to live.

Zien-McCombs, who also is a military wife, knew she had to something. She got Palmer's pool fixed, but did not want to stop there.

"We always talk about the veterans and how much they need help and that no one is ever helping them,"  Zien-McCombs said.

She decided to put words into action. It took a year of work, but "Code Vet" comes to life this weekend.

A team of individuals and businesses will donate time and money to improve the homes of  two veterans, including Palmer.

It's just the beginning, Zien-McCombs said.

"We want to keep doing this," Zien-McCombs said. "We don't want to do this just right now for these one or two houses. This is something we would like to ongoing."

Palmer said it's the chance he needed.

"I am very much grateful," Palmer said. "I am hopeful that this program is going to work and get me back on the ball again." 

Zien-McCombs said she believes it is the least we can do for veterans, and it's a win win for everyone.

"Making the community look pretty, but we got a veteran's back," Zien-McCombs said. "We are here with them. We did not forget about them."

The county is still working to put this plan together. County officials soon will have an email address where companies and individuals can sign up to help or someone can submit a veteran's name who needs help.