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Sgt. wounded in Iraq treated at Hines Blind Rehab Center

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Army Sergeant Joel Tavera is the second most seriously injured veteran to survive the War with Iraq.

Sgt. Tavera is always smiling. The 26-year-old veteran knows he's lucky to be at Hines V.A. Hospital. Tavera is the second most wounded soldier to survive the Iraqi War. Five years ago, a blast hit his Humvee. Tavera was burnt on 60-percent of his body, lost a leg and four fingers, and is completely blind.

"The initial blast blew out [the] right eye socket and eventually burnt the right eye," Sgt. Tavera said.

For the past seven weeks, the Tampa Florida native has been living at the Hines VA Blind Rehab Center in Maywood. For years, it was the only center of its kind in the nation.

"It is a rigorous training program," Jerry Schutter, service chief at Hines Blind Rehab Center, said.

The goal of the center is to give blind veterans back their lives and make them as independent as possible.

"I only have one usable hand, my left hand being inoperable, my right hand have about 80-percent use. So I'm able to get around, dress myself, shower myself, shave," Sgt. Tavera said.

Sgt. Tavera jokes he didn't do his own laundry too often before he was injured, but he can now. Sgt. Tavera will be bringing all his new skills home to Florida on Friday.

An only child, Sgt. Tavera's parents have been with him every step of the recovery process. His dad, Jose, admits it's been hard to watch his son recover. But he says Sgt. Tavera's sense of humor makes it easy.

"It's really a miracle he is here with us, I'm thankful to God he is," Sgt. Tavera said.

Jose Tavera says being depressed about his son's injuries is not an option in their home. The family stays upbeat by staying busy.

Sgt. Tavera returns to the Hines for the month of September. While in Chicago, Sgt. Tavera got a chance to eat Lou Malnati's pizza and go to a Cubs game.

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