Written by Becca Habegger, Multimedia Journalist - bio | email
National Guard Sgt. Andrew Connolly inspired the act that will extend veterans housing benefits for another decade
DUBUQUE (KWWL) -
This week, president Obama signed into law an act bearing the name of one eastern Iowa National Guard soldier.
The Andrew Connolly Veterans' Housing Act will help veterans with disabilities all across the US.
For Connolly's family, this hits especially close to home.
The Connolly's Dubuque house is spacious by design, with enough room for the equipment that keeps four-year-old Brody Connolly alive.
Son of Jenny and Andrew Connolly, Brody was born with a neuromuscular disorder.
"It's muscle weakness, and his major issue is respiratory, and so it requires him to be trached and vented," Jenny Connolly said.
Brody requires around-the-clock supervision, but caring for him became harder August 26, 2011: the day Jenny Connolly lost her high school sweetheart and husband to cancer.
"Like surgeries and procedures, not having somebody to decide, 'You know, are we doing the right thing?' Now it's just me deciding, so that's really hard," Connolly said, tearing up. "Nights are really hard."
Sgt. Andrew Connolly returned from Iraq in 2007 with a tumor on his spine.
When the cancer confined him to a wheelchair, the federal government's Specially Adapted Housing Grant Program helped the family build a home to meet Connolly's mobility needs.
"Without the grant we wouldn't have been able to build a house," Jenny Connolly said.
In May of 2011, less than four months before his death, Andrew Connolly testified before members of congress.
"I am here today to advocate for adaptive housing grants for veterans," he told the Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity. "I am praying for all soldiers and veterans, that they may have the support and dignity that they deserve without having to jump through hoops or have friends in politics."
"He was pretty sick when he went to DC, but he knew that he still had a voice, and he wanted to speak on behalf of other veterans and fight for them, and that's what he could do," Jenny Connolly recalled.
Sgt. Connolly fought for his country, he fought for his mobility and then he fought, successfully, for the extension of the grant program, which was set to expire at the end of 2012.
"I was really happy that his last pay-it-forward mission came to an end and it will help other people," Connolly said.
Her husband's legacy lives on in the veterans this law will help and in the couple's son.
"I don't know what I would do without Brody," Connolly said, emotionally. "He's everything. He's what's keeping me going."
The house that was built to fit her husband's needs now serves those of their son.
The Andrew Connolly Veterans' Housing Act extends the grant program 10 years, through Dec. 2022. It also increases the housing grant limit from $63,780 to $91,780.
It's part of the Honoring America's Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012 President Obama signed Monday.
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