For nearly two weeks this summer, a usually quiet street in Lynn, Massachusetts, was a hive of round-the-clock activity. Contractors and locals wielding torque wrenches spilled out of the doors of a two-story Cape Cod as trucks, dumpsters, and brand-new appliances crowded the curb in front. From the outside it looked like the site of a typical home renovation — until you noticed the interview tent and roving camera crew.
Instead, this suburban lot was the setting for the 35th season of Military Makeover With Montel, a reality television program that remodels homes for veterans. Hosted by Montel Williams, Military Makeover pulls together local businesses and volunteers to carry out improvements — everything from installing new flooring to revamping a deck — based on the needs of the veteran’s family. The new season, which premiered Aug. 11 on Lifetime, is sponsored by GE Aerospace as part of the company’s ongoing commitment to service members. In return, the show’s producers chose to help a family in Lynn, home to GE Aerospace’s flagship defense plant.
From the veterans nominated, Military Makeover selected Jason Carmody for his ongoing service — a calling woven through his life since he was a young man. He joined the National Guard in his early 20s; between deployments, he worked as an emergency dispatcher for the town of Saugus, Massachusetts. After eight years as a military police officer, which included a nine-month deployment to Baghdad in late 2007, Jason became a captain in the Department of Veterans Affairs’ police force. His wife, Alyssa, is a social worker in the Lynn Public Schools and a mental health counselor. They have four children, ages 6 to 20.
As Jason was transitioning out of the military at the end of 2010, he and Alyssa embarked on another big change: They bought the house in Lynn. They have put a lot of love into it over the years, brightening up the living room with a beachy color scheme and replacing dated cabinets in the kitchen. But this summer, expensive repairs loomed — a broken stovetop, a leaky roof — postponing less urgent fantasies like installing a patio out back or converting an unfinished basement into a man cave.
This past June, the Military Makeover team took care of all those renovations — with time left over for a few surprises. In 10 days, a crew of local contractors and volunteers — including a contingent from GE Aerospace — also transformed all the bedrooms, remodeled the master bathroom, and tore down a wall separating the kitchen from the dining room.
“Military Makeover restored our faith in humanity,” Jason says. “While we knew many of the volunteers who worked on our home, so many more were people we hadn’t met. To think that they donated their time and their sweat for us, a family they don’t know, is absolutely amazing. We will never be able to express how thankful we are.”
Now that the carpenters and TV cameras are gone, the Carmodys have had a chance to settle into the renovated house. They are particularly enjoying the open kitchen. “We can host holidays now!” Jason says. “We have so much more room to be together as a family.” No longer worried about replacing the roof before another New England winter sets in, Jason and Alyssa have leeway to save up for other expenses.
The Carmodys hope their appearance on Military Makeover will have another positive effect: to “bring light to the mental health issues veterans may silently face even when they seem OK.” Jason ended his military career with numerous honors, ranging from the Army’s Commendation and Achievement medals to a Humanitarian Service Medal. But he also came home with PTSD. Reacclimating to civilian life was a struggle.
“It took a long time for him to blend back in,” Alyssa says.
With her expertise as a counselor, Alyssa encouraged Jason to “talk about my feelings and work through it,” he says. “I want to end the stigma about seeing a therapist. You would go to the doctor if you were in physical pain or your arm was broken. It’s the same for mental health.”
Jason has a message for fellow veterans who might be struggling. “You are not alone,” he says. “Know I see you. Know that even if you don’t know your full purpose yet, you are important. Things might seem dark right now, even hopeless. Don’t let this darkness define you or be the end of you. Reach out for help. You matter.”
If you are thinking of harming yourself or others, call or text the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988. The Vet Call Center, at (877) 927-8387, is a free hotline staffed around the clock by combat veterans and family members. Veterans can call to talk about their military experience or readjustment to civilian life.
Watch the Carmodys’ season of Military Makeover at militarymakeover.tv.