Adaptations giving wounded veterans freedom in their own home

Adapt-A-Vet styles each adaptation to veteran's specific needs, homestyle

SAN ANTONIO – During 23 years of service to our country, Capt. Juan "JJ" Guerrero made plenty of sacrifices. 

"I was injured July 26, 2007, in Iraq. I was in a vehicle, and an (improvised explosive device) exploded," Guerrero said.

Guerrero didn't need immediate amputation, but over the years, his injuries caused him to lose both legs. He now uses his wheelchair 40 percent of the time, but at first, his home was not wheelchair-friendly.

Guerrero met Michael and Roxanne Cotungo, co-owners of Adapt-A-Vet, who give injured veterans comprehensive home makeovers.

"We figure out what's best for them and their abilities, not their disabilities," Roxanne Cotungo said.

Adapt-A-Vet has already adapted about 18 homes in San Antonio, and now they're working with veterans around the nation.

The idea for the nonprofit started after Roxanne Cotungo's veteran grandfather had to leave his home of 60 years because it wasn't adapted.

Moving broke his heart, and he died soon after.

"I didn't want any other families to go through it," Roxanne Cotungo said.

Michael Cotungo said the adaptations they make look nothing like a hospital. They reflect the style of the home.

"They are not sterile looking. They're very warm and inviting," he said.

All of the ramps in Guerrero's home are seamless, built from the same material as the driveway, the garage or the patio.

Guerrero said a big life-changing adaptation was the shower.

"We took this area and turned it into a roll in shower, so I can roll up here and there's my seat," he said, showing off the huge shower with no threshold to stop a wheelchair from getting in.

As the chef of the family, Guerrero's priority was the kitchen. He demonstrated a plate rack that pulls down to his wheelchair level and showed low countertops and a roll under sink so he can do the dishes.

Adapt-A-Vet thinks about the littlest family members, as well. Guerrero's children were having trouble coping with their father's surgeries and the reconstruction of their home, so Michael and Roxanne Cotungo built a hidden playroom underneath the staircase for them.

"It's freedom at home," Guerrero said.

Adapt-A-Vet does more than fix homes. The organization connects families with whatever help they need, including medical procedures, counseling, service animals and much more.

For the last 16 months, the Contungos have been helping veterans affected by Hurricane Harvey. They are rebuilding and furnishing homes, and they're even repairing the VFW building in Port Aransas.  

To apply for a home adaptation, click on the Adapt-A-Vet website and fill out an application.

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