The Veterans Administration Hospital in Palo Alto has become a primary treatment center for hundreds of Iraq War vets, many of whom arrive on stretchers and hooked up to feeding tubes. While there, the vets heal from their injuries -- often traumatic brain injuries -- and must learn to do basic things, like walk and talk, all over again.
But for half a dozen of these traumatic brain injury, or TBI, patients, an intense recovery period was followed by something unplanned and unexpected, but very welcome: A new and burgeoning community at the Shenandoah Condominiums in Mountain View.
At Shenandoah, frequent visits to see their buddies nearby and strolls down Castro Street have become an important part of their rehabilitation.
The soldiers there can live on their own, but still need to regularly visit the VA hospital for physical and speech therapy and appointments with doctors and psychologists.
Although brain injuries have always been a part of combat, hospital communications officer Kerri Childress said it is a more common cause of death and severe injury among soldiers fighting in Iraq because of increased use of improvised explosive devices. Since the Palo Alto hospital has one of only four TBI polytrauma units in the country, soldiers come from as far away as Texas, Hawaii and Alaska for treatment. Even after discharge, many must make the Bay Area their new home while they continue to recover.
"They need a new sense of home and community, and Mountain View is becoming that place," said lead polytrauma recreational therapist Susan Feighery. "It is becoming a sub community, one of the first in the country."
Located on Moffett Drive near Middlefield Road, Shenandoah once only housed soldiers on active duty. Since TBI has long-term effects that prevent some soldiers from returning to service, the condo complex's managers agreed to house veterans.
Shenandoah offers "a military culture, and they [the vets are around other people in uniform," said Sgt. First Class Lee Smith, who acts as a liaison between the military and VA, finding social and counseling services for the soldiers. "And it is affordable, which is good."
Feighery also noted that, unlike some other nearby communities, Mountain View has given the soldiers a warm welcome. For example, Performance Bicycles, a local bike shop, gave the VA discounts on adaptive cycling equipment.
Jason Poole, 28, is one of these veterans who recently moved into a Shenandoah condominium with his girlfriend Angela Eastman. Poole's story has been a popular subject in the press (including in the
Poole is originally from Bristol, England, and although he attended high school in Cupertino, many of his relatives, including his mother and twin sister, still live in the U.K. He was not naturalized until after he returned from Iraq, and now goes through rehabilitation with the friends he made at the VA, who live just next door.
"All of Jason's buddies do live here, and they can hang out and play video games," said Eastman, who is typically gone during the day for work. "We like it here so much, because you can just walk downtown and there are all the shops."
While Poole and Eastman begin to settle down and explore their new neighborhood, Poole has become a hero, nationally and locally. Both the
Poole, a high school athlete, was even asked to throw the opening pitch at a Mountain View Little League game.
"Everyone was there," he said, describing a crowd of 200 who watched his pitch.
Marine Cpl. John Potter, who also fought in Iraq but suffered a brain injury in the U.S., was the first to arrive at Shenandoah. Potter, who is still on active duty, pushed for the complex to accept veterans, so his friends from the VA could join him.
Now that his friends are here, Potter makes frequent rounds, he says, checking on Poole and the others, and often stays to play games with them. He said it's nice to once again be around all the soldiers he lived with in the hospital.
Mountain View, which he describes as being 45 miles away from "everything important," is the perfect location for him and his friends.
"We know their memory sucks, and their vision may be all messed up," Potter said. "I know what they are going through, and I can help them, and they can help me."