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From The Halls of Montezuma To Vinson Hall, And Back - April 2016

Fairfax County Times

April 2016

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From The Halls Of Montezuma To Vinson Hall, And Back

Visitors walking into Vinson Hall Retirement Community are usually shocked when they learn that the 27 year old man sipping coffee in the lobby is actually a resident.

Every day for two years, Staff Sergeant Kevin Hoffman has sat in the Vinson Hall lobby with his German Sheppard service dog, chatting with the other retirement community residents. 

When Navy Marine Coast Guard Residence Foundation (NMCGRF) first opened Wounded Warrior Transitional Housing at Vinson Hall in 2013, many asked why a young Marine would want to live in a retirement community. The answer is a simple one.

Like any retirement community, Vinson Hall was designed to support those with specialty medical needs. Independent Living apartments has been modified for those not as physically mobile with features like bathroom hand rails and a fitness center outfitted with recumbent exercise equipment. A health and wellness nurse’s station is open 24-hours a day for late night emergencies. Located just a few miles from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, retired and active duty military can pop up for doctor’s appointments easily with courtesy transportation. 

With all of these unique features of Vinson Hall already setting the stage, NMCGRF’s long history of supporting the military sealed the deal.

After more than two years of raising the required funds to start this program, Vinson Hall welcomed its first wounded warrior in September 2013. Corporal Eduardo and Donna Panyagua moved in with his service dog, Max. Like all other residents of Wounded Warrior Transitional Housing, Corporal Panyagua was undergoing the medical board evaluation to determine whether he would be able to stay in the Marine Corps after being wounded.

At Vinson Hall, Panyagua found a mentor in Vietnam veteran Colonel Glen Bratcher. “I considered him one of my friends, we have a close bond because we’re both Marines,” says Bratcher. “Eduardo cooked dinner for a couple of us senior residents. He even invited me and another resident to his wife’s Foreign Service Institute graduation.” After medically retiring from the Marines, he joined his wife in New Haven, Connecticut to attend college as a business major early in 2014. Panyagua and Bratcher still keep in touch via email.

The resident that replaced him is a young Marine who was wounded in Afghanistan in 2010. After enduring inpatient treatment at Walter Reed and seven years of rehabilitation, he remains dedicated to the Marines. Just this April, Sergeant Kevin Hoffman successfully transitioned back into active duty after nearly two years in Wounded Warrior Transitional Housing.

Since 2013, five young wounded Marines have come to call Vinson Hall home.

Two of those wounded warriors have brought their young children to live at Vinson Hall with them. “One wounded warrior’s son used to ride his tricycle around the campus walking paths,” remarks Chief Operating Officer Captain Michael Hendee. “You usually only see kids in a retirement community during weekends and holidays. It’s been fun having these young families as a part of the community day in and day out.”

George Lynch, the fitness director at Vinson Hall, works with both the wounded warriors and the senior residents to create fitness plans. “Kevin was in here quite a bit,” says Lynch. “We helped put together a workout program to strength his injured knee. Working out also has mental health benefits; it lets them release some of the stress.” Just like with his aging clients, Lynch teaches the wounded warriors how to protect injuries during a work out.

Wounded Warrior Transitional Housing has grown to include Army wounded warriors as well as Marines. While all renovations are complete, NMCGRF continues to raise funds to support the monthly expenses associate with this program so the Foundation can continue serving wounded warriors.

Vinson Hall Retirement Community began as a labor of love conceived by the Navy Officers’ Wives’ Club of Washington, D.C., in 1959.

The notion of creating a home which was “secure, companionable, and dignified”- a home where companionship and socializing would flourish— for Navy widows quickly captured the attention of senior sea service leaders, as well as Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard wives’ clubs worldwide. Two years later, Navy Marine Coast Guard Residence Foundation was formed to support this endeavor. On June 23, 1969, Vinson Hall opened its doors to provide a community fostering dignity, security, and friendship to sea service widows regardless of financial status.

As the years have passed and Vinson Hall extended its services to all branches of the military, the D.C. community has come to recognize Vinson Hall as an embodiment of the same camaraderie residents experienced while serving. The Foundation expanded its service programs as well to serve seniors who have outlived their resources. As a community with such a rich military history, NMCGRF sought to support not only those retired from the military, but active duty as well.

Located in idyllic McLean, VA, and home to nearly 300 retired military officers and government employees, Vinson Hall Retirement Community and NMCGRF are uniquely situated to support wounded warriors’ physical, mental, and emotional healing. The vision for Wounded Warrior Transitional Housing at Vinson Hall was established in 2011. The plan was to help young, wounded veterans who have returned home from conflict and require a special kind of care in an environment that is well-suited to their unique needs. Vinson Hall Retirement Community provides a community where older warriors can mentor younger warriors by providing a listening ear and words of encouragement. NMCGRF began reaching out to donors and corporate supporters to help transform two apartments into handicap-accessible, fully furnished spaces for singles or married families. Supported completely by donations to NMCGRF, Wounded Warrior Transitional Housing offers apartments with access to resident amenities on a sliding scale for rent and monthly fees. The Foundation works with each wounded warrior individually based on their need and budget. NMCGRF’s Wounded Warrior housing is the only program of its kind in the country.


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