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Hamptons Life

Jan 19, 2010 6:44 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Legion seeking $15,000 for van to transport older veterans

Jan 19, 2010 6:44 PM

Roy Thompson, 81, fought in both World War II and the Korean War. After he was discharged in the early 1950s, he returned home from combat unscathed. But now, Mr. Thompson, an East Hampton resident, is confined to a wheelchair. In July, he lost one of his legs in a medical battle with diabetes, and his other leg requires treatment. His companion, Adele Watson, is 83, arthritic and walks with two canes. The two are essentially housebound.

“I haven’t been out of the house since before Christmas” when he left the rehab center at Southampton Hospital after his surgery, he said.

Mr. Thompson said he is still adjusting to a life with restricted mobility. He had ramps installed at his doorway, but didn’t foresee that it was too narrow for his wheelchair to fit through. Leaving the house requires someone to lift him out of the chair while it is folded and set up again outside. The same is true when Mr. Thompson wants to get into a vehicle.

He said that he has gotten by largely thanks to the support of American Legion Post 419 in Amagansett. He said members visited him in the hospital, built the ramp outside his home, and bring him and his wife food.

Mr. Thompson said he requires physical therapy to learn to cope with a missing leg and remaining leg, for which he still needs treatment at the hospital’s Center for Advanced Wound Healing. But he said it costs him $45 each way to be taken by a van equipped for wheelchairs from East Hampton to Southampton Hospital, and his bill for being taken the mile from the hospital to the rehab center was another $35. Since Christmas, he has been visited three times a week by a physical therapist and a nurse, who changes the dressing on his wound, but he doesn’t know how long they’ll continue to make house calls.

Lee O’Toole, a Vietnam veteran and member of the American Legion, is pledging to help. He said the American Legion has the manpower and the will to help transport veterans to doctors appointments, the hospital and out for other necessities, but it doesn’t have the means.

Mr. O’Toole is trying to raise $15,000 quickly to purchase a minivan for the cause. With the help of Buzz Chew, owner of the eponymous car dealership in Southampton, Mr. O’Toole said they’ve found the used van but don’t know how long the seller will hold it for them while they raise the money.

“The VFW has an old vehicle, but it’s hard for the guys to get in and out,” he said. “Buzz Chew was kind enough to find a used one with low mileage and easy access for a reasonable price. Now, I’m trying desperately to raise the money.”

Mr. O’Toole said he’s worried that it’s a bad time for fund-raising, because many people in the community are worried about paying off holiday bills and facing generally tough times. But he also said that he knows of community members who have donated “tens of thousands” of dollars to other charities, and he hopes they will see the same value in his cause.

“People forget about these poor guys that have risked their lives so we can be where we are today,” he said.

Mr. Thompson said he has had a hard time adjusting. He said he is happy at the prospect of the American Legion acquiring a van and would welcome the help to return to some semblance of his former lifestyle.

“The missus and I used to love to go out and take a ride. We’d go out to Montauk to watch the fishing boats and things like that,” he said. “When you sit and look at the walls in one room, it’s no fun. A service like that, where you can at least get to your doctors without paying every time, is worth its weight in gold, believe me.”

Donations can be dropped off at the American Legion, located on Montauk Highway in Amagansett, or mailed to the American Legion Post 419, P.O. Box 1343, East Hampton.

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By xtiego (698), bridgehampton on Jan 25, 10 8:13 PM
By xtiego (698), bridgehampton on Jan 25, 10 8:19 PM
The Town of East Hampton Transportation bus will provide wheel chair accessible transportation to scheduled doctors appointment throughout Suffolk county with at least 48 hours notice. Suggested Donation is 50 cents. Their number is 324-4443. http://www.town.east-hampton.ny.us/Transportation.pdf
By voter (33), Amagansett on Jan 26, 10 1:20 PM