Living Courageously through COVID

“Stephanie helped me get anything I needed. She’s an amazing person."

Duberney Cuero
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Duberney Cuero can tell you exactly when he became an American citizen. And he can tell you exactly why. It was 2005 at the American embassy in Rome, Italy. He was there as a near lifelong resident of the United States and a career soldier who wanted nothing more than to be a full-fledged citizen. “It took three years just to submit the paperwork while I was in Iraq,” he explains. Once in Italy with yet another deployment to a war zone coming up, Duberney asked his commander to speed up the process if he could. “If I die here, I want to die as an American soldier,” he said.

Death was not in the cards for Duberney. But during his 15-year military career and a dozen deployments—including three stints in war-torn Iraq—the young U.S. Army Special Operations veteran endured serious combat situations that twice involved detonated improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Duberney’s military experience began when he was 19 ½ years of age. That’s when the native of Colombia signed up at a recruitment center in New York City’s Times Square. New York had been his home since 1985. His mother sent him there to join his father because she felt it would be a place where he could receive an education and have a brighter future. The U.S. Army became his path. Military bases become his home. And combat missions became where he formed unbreakable bonds with fellow soldiers.

His biggest challenge as a veteran, however, came after he left the military and settled in Keller, Texas with his family. This time the combat mission came in the form of COVID-19.

Duberney was the first in his family to come down with COVID, then his partner, Stephanie, whom he had met at Fort Hood during a deployment, and finally their two children. But its impact on Duberney was the most profound. It cost him his job. As he struggled to regain his health, a cascade of financial difficulties hit the family hard. Rent and other bills were going unpaid. Duberney finally called the Veterans Administration for help. They referred him to Volunteers of America (VOA) Texas. And that’s when Stephanie joined the Cuero family team. Stephanie was part of VOA Texas Cares, based in Fort Worth. This program specifically works with those facing potential homelessness and have suffered financial issues from COVID-19.

“Stephanie helped me get anything I needed,” Duberney said. “She’s an amazing person.” In addition to securing rental funds, Stephanie talked to his landlord and helped negotiate on the family’s behalf. She also identified and connected Duberney to an organization that provides veterans with employment assistance. As a result, a return to work is on the horizon. Meanwhile, Stephanie has kept in contact, providing whatever help she can.

While lamenting the VA’s lack of ability to care for its veterans, Duberney lauds the way VOA Texas Cares has filled the gap. “These people need to be recognized for how they care and the love they have for veterans,” he said.