Homes for Our Troops questions veteran's paralysis after video

Non-profit questions vet's paralysis

DRIPPING SPRINGS -- A national non-profit that built a specially-adapted house in Dripping Springs for a wounded Army veteran is now 'weighing its options', after contrasting stories have emerged regarding the severity of the soldier's injuries.

Army Specialist Justin Perez-Gorda suffered a traumatic brain injury while serving in Afghanistan in January 2011.

For years, he and his wife claimed publicly he was paralyzed from the belly button down.

"He has permanent loss of use of both lower extremities. He's paralyzed from the belly button down," Josephine Perez-Gorda said during a taped video segment later used by Homes for Our Troops for fundraising efforts.

However, weeks after the couple moved into a home in rural Hays County late 2013, videos and pictures surfaced showing Justin walking on the property.

Residents of Dripping Springs who spoke with KENS 5 said the couple became angry and withdrawn, when approached about Justin's apparent recovery.

The I-Team reached out to Homes for Our Troops last month. Officials from the non-profit acknowledged they had been aware of concerns raised by neighbors since early 2014.

Homes for Our Troops Executive Director Bill Ivey said the non-profit repeatedly reached out to Justin last year, to no avail. Ivey said late last year a Homes for Our Troops employee drove from Alabama to Texas after the previous attempts to reach out to Justin had been unsuccessful.

According to Ivey, Justin refused to come out of a back bedroom. The employee talked to Josephine for 45 minutes, but left town without any answers, Ivey said.

Jan Francis, Homes for Our Troops Program Support Manager, told the I-Team via telephone last month: "Its very hard to get someone help when they don't want it."

Hours after being contacted by the I-Team last month, Homes for Our Troops removed the donation link from Justin's biography page. Ivey said donations received from people who clicked the link had been going to other Homes for Our Troops projects since the Perez-Gorda's home was completed in December 2013.

A U.S. Army spokesman confirmed Justin was medically retired from the military, but said his medical records are sealed.

Weeks after the I-Team first contacted Homes for Our Troops, Justin's bio was updated to indicate he was diagnosed with "incomplete paraplegia". Ivey said the bio was updated after reviewing paperwork Justin provided to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs that qualified him for a specially adapted housing grant.

"Obviously there is something out there we missed. Homes for Our Troops continues to assess the situation and is weighing our options," said Ivey via telephone earlier this month. Ivey said he spoke with Justin recently, and advised him to "be a good neighbor."

Ivey said taking the home away from the family would be a "last resort".

A former military doctor who did not treat Justin Perez-Gorda offered insight into the possible discrepancies in information regarding Justin's injuries.

"A TBI [traumatic brain injury] alone would not generally and rarely ever cause paralysis from the waist down," said Dr. Jesse Neeley, medical director of Reeves Rehabilitation Center at University Hospital and a physician with UT Medicine San Antonio.

Neeley is a former Army doctor who spent time working at Brooke Army Medical Center's Warrior Clinic.

"At one year you can say they've recovered most of what they're going to recover. Over that year, post traumatic injury, the swelling decreases, the nerves recover from their trauma and the person can regain strength and sensation," said Dr. Neeley.

Justin declined comment last month, telling the I-Team "get off my property" as he unloaded lumber in his garage.

The I-Team spoke with Josephine Perez-Gorda Tuesday. She slammed Homes for Our Troops during an hour-long phone conversation, and repeatedly stated employees from the non-profit have known for years Justin is able to walk.

When asked to explain the extent of Justin's injuries, Josephine declined, citing HIPPA laws. She also declined to say why the non-profit contends Justin was unresponsive to months of repeated inquiries last year.

When presented with information provided from Dr. Neeley's interview, Josephine acknowledged Justin has been able to walk since March 2011, approximately two months after he was injured. Josephine said Justin will never fully regain the ability to walk. Josephine declined to say why the narrative of Justin's injuries was not corrected while Homes for Our Troops raised money to build the couple's home.


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