Michelle Obama helps retrofit wounded vet's home

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Posted: Oct 17, 2011 4:57 PM
Michelle Obama helps retrofit wounded vet's home

Army Sgt. Johnny Agbi's narrow three-story rowhouse doesn't look ideal for a disabled veteran. It's perched on a small hill along a busy thoroughfare just blocks from the U.S. Capitol. There are steps leading to the front and rear doors.

Thanks to a $100,000 renovation, the first floor has been transformed, with wide entrances, a spacious kitchen with new appliances and a large, accessible bathroom.

First Lady Michelle Obama and Jill Biden, the wife of Vice President Joe Biden, visited Monday to help finish off the renovation, which was retrofitted through a charitable venture called Heroes at Home.

Agbi, 32, was the 1,000th veteran whose home was renovated under the program, which began in 2007 and is a joint venture between the nonprofit Rebuilding Together and Sears Holding Corp.

The Army medic was wounded in Afghanistan in 2004 when his transport helicopter was attacked as he was helping two badly wounded soldiers on board. He was shot and fell more than 10 feet off a ledge, shattering his back and injuring his brain. He uses a wheelchair but can walk short distances with the aid of a cane.

"They told me I would never walk again," said Agbi, the son of a Mexican immigrant and a native of El Paso, Texas. "I'm walking _ not very fast."

Agbi said the changes to his home have made a big difference in his life. He bought the house five years ago while he was undergoing rehabilitation at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. He initially turned down the renovation because he felt other veterans deserved it more. But he changed his mind, in part to serve as an example to other veterans that it's OK to accept help.

"There's so many veterans, friends I have that are sort of forgotten. They're living with the war in their head," he said.

The First Lady rolled a fresh coat of beige paint on the walls of Agbi's living room, urging organizers not to rush her because she's a perfectionist. Biden, wearing a gray, long-sleeved "ARMY" T-shirt, chatted with Agbi.

The two signed their names above his fireplace. After Obama was finished writing hers, Agbi joked that she'd signed in the wrong spot.

"He's got a strange sense of humor," Obama said.

Obama and Biden launched an initiative this year called Joining Forces with the goal of encouraging volunteers to aid military families.

"When people fall on times that they need support, there are thousands of us, millions of us, willing to step up and lend a hand," Obama said.

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