CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Bruce Burgess grasped an oversized key to his new mortgage-free home on Wednesday.
It was a gift from the Military Warriors Support Foundation.
The foundation has given away more than 300 homes in 35 states since 2010. It plans to donate another 300 this year alone.
Burgess' home is the first to be donated in West Virginia.
Appearing at Charleston's Haddad Riverfront Park to surprise Burgess were Lt. Gen. Leroy Sisco, founder and CEO of the foundation; Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.; spokespersons for Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.; and Congresswoman Shelly Moore Capito.
Burgess is a U.S. Army veteran who lives in Martinsburg and is studying communications at Shepherd University. He said he has referred other veterans to the program and always hoped someone in West Virginia would be chosen.
"It makes a significant impact and helps everyone with everything from health care, to education, to employment," he said.
"I have pushed behind the radar for West Virginia to finally have a portion of the program in our state. It finally came to fruition.
"I can't say how happy I am for it ...We're just the perfect place for this. We have so many wounded veterans coming home."
Ever since he was a child growing up in Dunbar, Burgess wanted to be a solider.
He served for 10 years, rising to the rank of staff sergeant. His ventures took him across the globe.
He conducted bomb disposal operations, and disarmed, neutralized or destroyed improvised explosive devices, or IEDs.
Blasts from IEDs caused him to suffer traumatic brain injury. They also caused visual impairments - blind spots, sensitivity to light and focusing difficulty.
The foundation honors combat-wounded heroes and donates homes that have been renovated to make them accessible to those with handicaps. They are valued at between $150,000 and $250,000.
The homes go to families in severe or unique circumstances because of the soldier's injuries. The families also receive three years of mentoring on homeowner skills.