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VA a no-show; store workers fix vet's wheelchair

Jul. 17, 2014 - 08:40PM   |  
Michael Sulsona, a Vietnam War veteran who lost both legs to a land mine 40 years ago, poses with a 'thank you' sign Tuesday while seated in his new wheelchair at home in Staten Island, N.Y. The 62-year-old Vietnam veteran said he petitioned the VA for a new chair two years ago and received no reply. Then his wheelchair broke last week. Three Lowe's employees stayed late after their 10 p.m. closing time to do the repair, for free.
Michael Sulsona, a Vietnam War veteran who lost both legs to a land mine 40 years ago, poses with a 'thank you' sign Tuesday while seated in his new wheelchair at home in Staten Island, N.Y. The 62-year-old Vietnam veteran said he petitioned the VA for a new chair two years ago and received no reply. Then his wheelchair broke last week. Three Lowe's employees stayed late after their 10 p.m. closing time to do the repair, for free. (Frieda Sulsona / AP)
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Michael Sulsona sits in a chair watching three Lowe's employees repair his wheel chair July 7 in Staten Island, N.Y. (Frieda Sulsona / AP)

NEW YORK — What the Department of Veterans Affairs failed to do for double amputee Michael Sulsona in two years, some New York hardware store workers delivered in an hour: They fixed his broken wheelchair.

The 62-year-old Vietnam veteran said he petitioned the VA for a new chair two years ago and received no reply. Then his wheelchair broke last week.

When Sulsona was in a Lowe’s home improvement store on Staten Island, a bolt on the already worn-out wheelchair snapped and a back wheel was about to fall off. Three Lowe’s employees stayed late after their 10 p.m. closing time to do the repair, for free.

“They said, ‘You’re not leaving till it’s like new again,’” Sulsona recalled.

The next day, Sulsona wrote a letter to his local newspaper, the Staten Island Advance, to thank the store’s employees.

“I kept thanking them and all they could say was, ‘It was our honor,’” he wrote. “The actions of these three employees at Lowe’s showed me there are some who still believe in stepping to the plate. … Someone needed help and they felt privileged to be given the opportunity.”

Sulsona, a former Marine, said he lost his legs in 1971 during an explosion while on patrol.

After his letter to the newspaper, the VA got word of Sulsona and sent him a brand-new wheelchair Tuesday.

Sulsona’s new chair arrived in the wake of months of scandal in the VA’s health care unit over complaints nationwide of long wait times and poor patient care.

“We were very grateful that this was brought to our attention,” said VA spokesman Jim Blue with the VA New York/New Jersey Healthcare Network. “Too many veterans wait too long to receive their health care and benefits and this has never been acceptable.”

In a statement, Chris DiMaria, store manager at the Staten Island Lowe’s, said he couldn’t “be more proud of his team or company.”

“Whether a customer needs assistance repairing their home or a wheelchair, our employees are ready to spring into action to help,” DiMaria said.

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