For veteran Chris Tomlin of San Diego, the reminders of war are gradually fading amid the ocean waves and comforts of a home. The U.S. Marine, who sustained a traumatic brain injury while serving in Iraq, is a lifelong surfer who says he finds peace as a homeowner — and helping others learn how to surf.
After three tours of duty in Iraq, the former bomb diffuser says he has fought his way back to normalcy. Today, he works with nonprofits to support other veterans with disabilities and share the healing of the waves with them.
“When the doctors told me I’d never surf again, I told them that’s just not an option,” says the 33-year-old. “So I have done everything I can possibly do, through six years of physical therapy, to get back out there. And these days, when I do surf, it is extremely therapeutic and a huge victory.”
Chris is among the many veterans who have bought a home in recent years as they transition to civilian life, says Cheryl Sutcliffe, a Wells Fargo Home Mortgage consultant who worked with him and other veterans in San Diego, which has a large military population. Despite the pricey real estate of Southern California, Chris bought an affordable fixer-upper, only blocks from the beach, and renovated it with the help of friends and family members.
“He was so thrilled to find a place near the beach and the VA hospital where he gets his treatment,” Cheryl says, “and he’s found his own way of giving back. It has been a privilege to get to know him.”
Chris credits Cheryl with playing a key role by guiding him through the lengthy process involved in the Veterans Affairs Department-backed loan program and explaining its benefits. “She worked nonstop to be there for me, to cover all the bases, and make sure everything was done right and as quickly as possible,” he says. “I will be the first to say that buying a house is scary, going from being debt free to being in debt overnight. But she did an incredible job of explaining things and walking me through the process.”
Commitment to veterans
In recent years, Wells Fargo has expanded services to veterans, providing specialized training to mortgage consultants like Cheryl; streamlining the application process through its Military Mortgage Express® program; sponsoring programs like Warriors to Summits for veterans the past two years; and strengthening its position as a leading lender of VA-backed loans, says Jerry Quinn, head of the company’s Military Affairs Program.
Warriors to Summits, a program of the nonprofit No Barriers USA, has attracted wounded warriors from across the country to overcome their disabilities by scaling some of the world’s highest peaks.
As part of Wells Fargo’s ongoing commitment, it has contributed more than $66 million to such efforts, surpassing the original goal, Jerry says.
“We have supported the military and our veterans for more than 160 years, basically as long as Wells Fargo has existed,” he says. “A few years ago we recognized the need to focus on the three areas of financial education, career transition, and housing.”
David Gibbons, head of membership and external partnerships for the Military Mortgage Express program, says when it comes to reaching out to veteran homebuyers, Wells Fargo offers excellent benefits. For example, the company waives all lender processing fees for veterans, he says.
That makes a big difference, says Devon St. Cyr, a U.S. Marine Corps pilot who bought a home in San Diego earlier this year with Cheryl’s help. After she had helped him with a no-fee refinancing of his previous home, Devon called on Cheryl again when he and his wife, Rebecca, wanted to buy a home for their growing family.
“Cheryl was so great the first time we worked with her, I didn’t call anyone else,” says the 27-year-old New Hampshire native. “She had earned our business.”
Waiving the loan processing fee alone meant a savings of nearly $1,200 for Chris, Cheryl says.
He never expected to be able to buy a home at the beach, and it has helped immensely in healing his wounds, Chris says.
“There’s just something magical about it. I think any surfer would agree. We may not be able to describe it in words; it’s like describing colors to a blind person. It’s just healing, you know. To me, it’s the most enjoyable thing on this planet,” he says.