It was on a recent chilly but joyful Monday morning that retired Army Staff Sgt. Marko Milosevic and his family were presented with a newly renovated, mortgage-free home in Forest Lake.
Fire and police officials, neighbors and members of the community, along with executives from U.S. Bank and Freedom Alliance, congratulated Milosevic, wife Samantha and three kids. They had been told they were getting a new home through a special program for veterans, but hadn’t seen it with nearly $70,000 in renovations.
The kids “haven’t stopped running in circles,” Milosevic said. “My wife is, like me, very humbled.” It’s amazing, he added, to be a homeowner with a paid-off mortgage at the age of 33.
Milosevic suffers from a traumatic brain injury, nerve damage and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) he developed during 12 deployments to the Middle East. Recently he has been a stay-at-home dad while his wife pursues a nursing degree. His community work includes assembling care packages and working with retreat programs in Tampa, Fla., for PTSD victims.
Now, with rent and a mortgage no longer looming, Milosevic said the house will give him more time to focus on his family and the work where his heart lies: veterans issues in the community. He wants to return to college, go to law school and eventually work on a project to establish veterans courts in Minnesota.
“Through me, I can connect with thousands of veterans in the community,” he said.
‘Doing the right thing’
Tom Kilgannon, president of the Freedom Alliance, a Virginia-based nonprofit that supports military families, said his organization’s Heroes to Homeowners Program has been working with U.S. Bank’s Housing Opportunities after Military Engagement program for three years. Together they have donated eight homes nationwide, while U.S. Bank has donated an additional four homes.
Freedom Alliance is in charge of doing the verification and research necessary to choose the right applicant. Successful applicants must have been wounded in Iraq or Afghanistan, and the new home must be their primary residence. They should have a good service record and pass a background check.
After in-person interviews, Freedom Alliance selects the applicant and hands off the process to U.S. Bank, which handles the homeowner and mortgage portions.
Kilgannon said that Milosevic was a “natural fit in terms of … someone who has done so much in their career.”
“What’s important for the public to know is that when service members return home, their problems are not over,” Kilgannon said. They often need to relearn some basic skills, especially if they’re trying to recover from a mental or physical injury.
Milosevic, a Minneapolis native who grew up in Apple Valley, joined the military as an Airborne Ranger at 17 with his mother’s permission. He spent about four years in war zones in Afghanistan and Iraq, earning two Bronze Stars and several commendation medals.
Medically retired in 2014, he attends a weekly PTSD support group at the Minneapolis Veterans Affairs Military Center.
The Forest Lake home where his family now lives had been foreclosed on by U.S. Bank, which then decided to renovate it and award it to a veteran rather than trying to sell it, said Mike Ott, president of the Private Client Reserve for U.S. Bank.
“We’re proud of doing the right thing, and sometimes no one sees it, but sometimes people do see it,” he said.
Destanie Martin-Johnson is a student at the University of Minnesota on assignment for the Star Tribune.