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‘First Nail’ for wounded veteran

U.S. Army Specialist Roberto Reyes had a special homecoming after four years in VA hospitals on Saturday, July 25, as he drove a ceremonial “First Nail” into a board symbolizing the doorway to his new home in Throggs Neck.

A crowd gathered outside of 2842 Sampson Avenue for a ceremony where M.C. and veterans advocate Larry Rivera joined Specialist Reyes, Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., Reyes’ aunt and legal guardian Maria Mendez, Assemblyman Michael Benedetto, veterans advocate Pat Devine and many well-wishers in welcoming the disabled vet into his new home.

The house was purchased for the Iraqi vet through a charity called A House For Robert, founded by Rivera after he befriended Reyes at Bronx’s James J. Power’s VA Medical Center. Reyes was ready to transition to regular community housing, which needed to accommodate his special needs.

“In order to come home, Robert would need a house with extra wide doors, hydraulic lifts, special bathrooms, all kinds of high end adaptive features for a person who has hemispheric paralysis,” Rivera said. “Robert has a traumatic brain injury. He has come a long way with psychical and occupational therapy, but without a suitable house, he could not come home.”

Reyes was awarded a Purple Heart and earned two combat action badges when a roadside bomb in Baghdad hit the his truck on January 26, 2005. He was thrown 20 feet in the air, cracking his skull open and exposing vital organs. American troops had to drive away insurgent forces beating Reyes, before pulling him to safety.

Rivera said that using the soldier’s own personal resources, they were able to purchase the home at a reduced price from a decorated World War II veteran, Louis Ramos, who was looking to sell the house and sympathized with Robert. They are now applying for government and private grants to secure Reyes’ future.

Bullfrog Builders, who were on hand for the “First Nail” ceremony, is custom rebuilding Reyes’ new home, which is just three blocks from where he was living with his aunt when he enlisted in the Army. They are donating labor and pledged to discount the project’s final costs. The ranch-style home will nearly quadruple in size, and will be completely wheelchair accessible with hydraulic ramps, lower countertops, and wider doorways.

“We are going to make it bigger,” said Costa Rigas of Bullfrog Builders. “The first floor will be for the solider and a second will be for his aunt, who is his guardian. The final plans still have to be approved by the city, but we hope to have it done by Christmas. It would be a wonderful Christmas gift for this soldier.”

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