Things looking up for interpreter

The Baltimore Sun

Today is moving day for Saad Ahmed, a wounded Iraqi interpreter who lost both legs to a roadside bomb last year while working for the U.S. military.

Ahmed is moving to a high-end apartment in North Bethesda that is wheelchair-accessible, with a spacious bathroom and an elevator to the lobby.

"I saw it. It was nice, beautiful, like a hotel," he said after being shown the apartment by Lutheran Social Services of the National Capital Area, the nonprofit agency that is coordinating his resettlement.

After arriving in the United States nearly a month ago, Ahmed, 33, and his younger sister, Alyaa, were placed in a Prince George's County apartment that the Lutheran agency acknowledged was unsuitable. Its bathroom was too small, and it lacked a ramp to the sidewalk. His situation was detailed Monday in The Sun.

The change of address is one of several positive developments for him this week. A donor has contributed a motorized wheelchair to improve his mobility.

And the nonprofit agency says he will see a doctor within a week and already has referrals to medical specialists.

Separately, a nurse case manager with insurance company AIG visited Ahmed yesterday. AIG was hired by L-3 Communications/Titan, the American firm that made a reported $2.9 billion supplying linguists to U.S. forces in Iraq.

Ahmed, a native of Iraq, went to work for L-3/Titan in 2003, soon after the U.S. invasion of Iraq. In 2005, he was praised for heroism after dousing a fire in a burning Humvee that had five American soldiers in it. Last year, a roadside bomb hit his convoy, mangling both legs at the knee and leaving him in a coma-like state for weeks.

Over the past two weeks, he had expressed a desire for a better place to live and said he wanted to see a doctor as soon as possible. Not only has he coveted a motorized wheelchair, but he dreams of getting high-tech artificial legs that will allow him to run again someday.

Across the country, Iraqi translators maimed in service to the U.S. government have complained of substandard housing, poor access to medical care and trouble finding work. Advocates blame the situation on a combination of meager federal benefits and nonprofit agencies' trouble closing the gap, given their limited resources.

Melissa Graves, executive director of the Washington-area Lutheran Social Services agency, said her staff concluded two weeks ago that the Ahmeds needed better accommodations.

The new apartment will cost "a few hundred dollars" more per month than the previous one, Graves said. It is feasible only because it's a "moderately priced" unit that all new developments in Montgomery County must set aside.

Even so, the building owner required the agency to co-sign the lease - "not what we do for every refugee," she said.

The new apartment is near the Grosvenor-Strathmore Metro station, and buses pull up right to the door. The building has a gym, private movie theater and "resort-inspired" pool with whirlpool.

The agency has promised the Ahmeds it will cover three months' rent. After that, the agency will solicit donations if the siblings have not found work or cannot cover the rent.

Several people contacted The Sun after Monday's article, wishing to assist Ahmed. Graves said any such financial support would be "tremendously helpful."

Both Ahmeds are receiving temporary food stamps and monthly cash assistance of $265. They will also have access to job counseling.

Ultimately, Saad Ahmed, a onetime gym teacher, hopes to coach disabled athletes. His 29-year-old sister says she would like to continue her accounting studies.

Both intend to become American citizens.

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