Braley Op-Ed: Paying it Forward – One Year Later PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Amanda Bowman   
Tuesday, 28 August 2012 14:12

It’s hard to believe that a year has passed since Andrew Connolly, a Dubuque veteran, passed away from a rare form of cancer in his spinal cord after returning home from his service in Iraq. That day I lost a friend, his wife Jenny and son Brody lost a wonderful husband and father, and Iowa lost one of its greatest sons.

Andrew faced incredible challenges, but throughout it all, he still focused on helping others – “Paying it Forward,” as Andrew would say. When he came back from his tour of duty in Iraq, the apartment he, Jenny, and their son Brody who has special-needs, were living in could no longer accommodate their family’s needs. They knew that Brody would need a handicapped-accessible living environment for the rest of his life.  As Andrew’s cancer spread, it became apparent that there were two members of the household who needed more accessible housing.

They pursued a VA housing grant to help build a handicapped-accessible home, but ran into the same bureaucratic mess that many Iowans experience when dealing with the government.  The Connollys ended up connecting with me, and we worked together to finally secure a VA housing grant for the family.  With the help of that grant, local businesses, and union shops around Dubuque, Andrew and his family were able to stretch their resources and build an accessible home.

This is what Iowa is all about.  Business leaders and union leaders worked together.  Government funding worked with private funding.  Simply put, neighbors came together, and a home was built.

But neither Andrew nor I could understand how wounded men and women returning home from fighting for our country could not even end up with proper housing to accommodate service-connected disabilities.   So Andrew and I worked together to make a change. We introduced a bill called the Andrew Connolly Veterans Housing Act. Andrew testified in the Veterans Affairs Committee in Congress, and together we convinced Democrats and Republicans that our disabled veterans should not go without housing that accommodates their physical needs.

After a lot of work and bipartisan support, the Andrew Connolly Veterans Housing Act was signed into law by President Obama on August 6, 2012 – just a few days after what would have been Andrew’s 29th birthday. The bill extends the adaptive housing grant program for disabled veterans for ten years, through December 31, 2022, and increases the total adaptive housing grant limit from $63,780 to $91,780. This will help many disabled veterans afford necessary, and often very expensive, changes to their home in order to live a fully functional life.

This bill passed because Andrew worked for it, and he even made some of the most unlikely neighbors – Republicans and Democrats in Congress – come together.  He is deeply missed, but he Paid it Forward every day. And although he’s gone, the law bearing his name will continue to Pay it Forward for our wounded warriors for years to come.

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