Most Viewed Stories
Fund helps vet as he works to improve family's life
The Yuma Sun is taking a look at the Yuma Veterans Fund this week, which will provide grants to help Yuma organizations assist veterans. This story is one in a series titled Veterans In Need. To donate, visit www.AZFoundation.org/YumaVeterans or call 539-5343.
At times Daniel Celaya has a hard time kissing his wife. The 30-year-old Army veteran sustained painful mouth and knee injuries while serving in the military.
“People look at me and they think ‘He looks healthy, he's young and healthy.' They don't know I can't kiss my wife because my mouth hurts so bad,” he said.
Looking at Celaya, a person might never imagine the intense pain he lives with due to injuries.
The Yuma native can't work due to recent knee surgeries. He worries about paying the rent and the growing pile of bills. He worries about his wife, Vanessa, and two young kids, Addison, 5, and Owen, 2.
“I'm in a predicament. I never thought eight years after being discharged I would be unemployed,” Celaya said.
This is where the Yuma Veterans Fund can help. The fund, recently established by the Yuma Community Foundation, is designed to help veterans who fall between the gaps.
“There are these other veteran organizations, but there's not enough money, not collectively, not individually. When they run out of their funding limit, there isn't anymore,” noted retired Lt. Gen. John Hudson, an adviser to the fund.
Celaya joined the Army “to do something better for myself.” He worked in supply and armor, dealing with weapons and logistics.
“I was ready to go to Iraq. I really wanted to go and make a difference.”
Instead, Celaya was medically discharged July 2004 due to a painful mouth infection that required 14 root canals. He received the injury when a dentist inadvertently damaged a nerve during a procedure during his service.
He suffered another injury during Advanced Individual Training. He dislocated his knee while running and later injured it again while stationed in Germany.
“I didn't want to leave the Army. They offered me a desk job. I didn't join the service to get a desk job.”
Back home, Celaya eventually got a job at a Yuma Proving Ground warehouse. After his knee started acting up, he switched jobs, still at YPG, until his knee started swelling up “like a grapefruit.”
He underwent several knee surgeries and was diagnosed with reactive arthritis. He was on crutches for months and missed so much work he was let go.
“I never thought I'd lose my job. I had a rough spell for a few months.”
He became depressed, wondering, “How will we make it?”
“I can understand why some veterans turn to drugs and alcohol. They feel like they have nowhere to go. They turn to alcohol to dull the pain.”
He's had a hard time finding another job with his “bum knee.” He nabbed a postal job but then learned he would have to walk 13 miles a day.
“A lot of companies say they want to hire veterans, and we do get a preference for government jobs, but regular, private companies don't have to. Why would they hire someone with a bum knee?”
He's considered 50 percent disabled, so his benefits are limited. “But whenever I see a doctor, they say, ‘I can't believe you're not 100 percent.'”
Celaya was re-evaluated in January and has been waiting on a decision for almost a year. “It could take years and in the meantime, we struggle,” he said.
“VA benefits can be hard to get. There are a lot of strings to pull. A lot of veterans have been hurt in war, but what about those in support, like me? I didn't get to be in it because I got hurt. There are funds set up to help wounded veterans, but no funds for noncombat veterans.”
The only thing keeping the family “afloat” is that he's been going to school on the GI Bill since 2009, he said. “I can't be Border Patrol, I can't be a policeman, so that's why I'm still in school.”
He receives benefits through the GI Bill, but he has to carry a full load for complete benefits. Next month he graduates with a bachelor's degree in public management. Then he will start working on his master's degree.
“I have to. Otherwise I can't get a good job. I want to find a good job in public administration so I can make a difference.”
But the GI benefits don't cover the many expenses that pop up in life — like dental work.
“When veterans lose their jobs, unless they're 100 percent disabled, they have no health insurance. My wife had four wisdom teeth removed because of an infection in March. It cost $2,100 cash and we have no dental insurance. That's how the fund can help a vet like me, until I can pay it back. We don't have to take out loans,” Celaya said.
The fund could also help with traveling expenses for frequent trips to the VA in Tucson. They sold their vehicle and got a cheaper vehicle. But with only one car, they quickly racked up the miles driving to doctor's appointments.
The fund could also help with downsizing expenses. “We rented this house eight years ago. We pay $900 a month. We've been asked why don't you move?”
But moving, he's found, can be expensive. Rentals for a family of four average between $750 to $800 plus deposits, installation and hookup fees.
“It's about $3,000 to move,” Celaya noted.
So when he learned of the new veterans fund, he thought, “This would really help out.”
He might not be able to ride a bike with his children, he might not be able to bend down painlessly to play with them, he might not be able to do certain activities with them, but he sees a light at the end of the tunnel.
Celaya believes the Yuma Veterans Fund will ease this difficult time and help his family move forward.
“My wife and children push me through. Without them, I wouldn't be alive. I want them to have a better life.”
How much the fund can help veterans like Celaya depends on the donations it receives. To learn more about the fund or for information on how to donate, visit www.azfoundation.org/yumaveterans.
Mara Knaub can be reached at email@example.com or 539-6856. Find her on Facebook at Facebook.com/YSMaraKnaub or on Twitter at @YSMaraKnaub.