Dual Military Couple Finds Safety and Stability at Maryland Village
Navy veteran Merry Garza does not know where she, her wife, and their son would be without Operation Homefront’s Transitional Housing – Villages program, which provided stable and safe housing during her medical retirement process.
Merry, wife Bethany Rios, and son Artemis, moved into the Gaithersburg, Maryland, Village after Merry was diagnosed with a complicated neurological disorder and was going through the medical board process.
Merry, a petty officer 2nd class, began experiencing medical issues while serving aboard the USS John C. Stennis in 2014.
Her assignment to the Stennis came soon after she enlisted, a decision that made her the fourth generation in her family to join the Navy, and the first woman in the family to serve.
She had planned on a career, but injuries, illness, and, eventually, a diagnosis of a rare brain aneurysm led to medical retirement.
In late 2019, after her tour aboard the Stennis and while on assignment in Europe, Merry’s neurological symptoms worsened. Bethany – also a Navy veteran – escorted Merry from Europe to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
Merry immediately began treatment, and Bethany set aside her plan to earn a degree in criminal justice to serve as her wife’s nonmedical attendant. During extensive testing, doctors discovered a complex and inoperable brain aneurysm that Merry is learning to live with and could possibly shorten her life.
“I don’t know where we would be right now if we didn’t have this program.” – Merry Garza, Navy veteran
With Bethany as her caregiver and the medical retirement process started, the couple needed off-base housing. Increased living costs, on top of medical expenses not covered by insurance, made for a stressful time.
Merry felt relief after meeting fellow Navy veteran Bernice Sanchez Arce, who told her about Operation Homefront’s Transitional Housing – Villages program. The two were part of a Navy adaptive sports therapy program, and Bernice was living in the Village.
She explained to Merry that the program provides fully furnished apartments for wounded, ill, and injured service members with families to live in rent-free while they go through the process of medically separating from the military. The program also includes financial and career counseling for service members as they become established in the civilian community.
Merry applied and was accepted into the Village in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Her medical retirement was completed in December 2022, just shy of her 10-year service anniversary. Merry and Bethany welcomed their son, Artemis Garza-Rios, while in the program.
The couple stayed in the Village until March 2023, when they were accepted into Operation Homefront’s Transitional Homes for Veterans program. During their year in the Village, Merry and Bethany gained valuable financial education and money-management experience, including how to provide for the family in lieu of life insurance, which Merry has not yet been able to qualify for because her of her terminal illness. Life insurance would have provided a cushion for the family that the couple was not able to find in other saving methods. Learning how to work around that helped relieve stress for the couple.
“Sitting down with a financial adviser and talking about how to move forward without having life insurance was so helpful,” Merry said. “One of the biggest decisions was turning what would have been my retirement fund that I was building while I was active duty into my life insurance savings because of my illness.”
The financial counseling also helped the couple figure out which debts to pay off first, how to decide what was most important, and how to save for Artemis, now 9 months old.
“I don’t know where we would be right now if we didn’t have this program,” Merry said, “We still have to prepare for the what ifs, but it helped us prepare.”
Thank you to the Coca-Cola Foundation and other partners for making it possible to help military families like Merry and Bethany’s.