House for vet delayed

Members of the ‘Nam Knights Motorcycle club with wounded U.S. Army Specialist Roberto Reyes, pictured in the center, on his special day: the “First Nail” ceremony on Saturday, July 25 for what his family hopes will be his new home. The ‘Nam Knights escorted Robert from the John J. Peters VA Hospital to the home his aunt is under contract to purchase for him on Sampson Avenue. Photo by Patrick Rocchio

by Patrick Rocchio

It was a heartwarming “First Nail” ceremony when a severely-wounded veteran opened the door on his new life after four years in Veterans Administration hospitals and nursing homes. Now, concerns raised by VA lawyers may delay the homecoming of U.S. Army Specialist Roberto Reyes.

On Saturday, July 25 Reyes drove a ceremonial first nail into a board as a crowd of neighbors, friends and family looked on. The ceremony was supposed to kick off construction on the house being purchased for Robert using his veterans’ benefits and other funding. Reyes was injured in a roadside bombing in Iraq in 2005 – thrown 20 feet from a vehicle and beaten by insurgents.

However, the closing on the house is now on hold because objections were raised by attorneys for the Fiduciary Unit of the Veterans Administration at a hearing on August 4 before Bronx Supreme Court.

Maria Mendez-Valentin, Reyes’ aunt, legal guardian and trustee, needed approval from the Supreme Court’s Guardianship Bureau and all related parties involved in providing funding for the house before the closing would take place. The process appeared to be only a formality.

“The truth is Robert needs to come home,” said Mendez-Valentin. “He has been [able to be] discharged from the hospital for two years, but cannot come home because I don’t have a house with adaptive features. All that we are asking is that we be allowed to build a home where he can live comfortably with his family.”

A hearing about the pending purchase of the house at 2842 Sampson Avenue, to be reconstructed with adaptive features for the severally wounded vet, is scheduled in Bronx Supreme Court for Wednesday, August 12.

According to Mendez-Valentin, the Veterans Administration is requesting she set up a surety bond for Robert’s funds valued at over $200,000 guaranteeing no misappropriations.

The request, which Mendez-Valentin said came out of the blue, may put the brakes on the pending alteration of the house by Bullfrog Builders, which has pledged to do the work below cost. The ranch-style home will nearly quadruple in size, and will be completely wheelchair accessible with hydraulic ramps, lower countertops, and wider doorways. It will include a living quarters for Reyes, who is confined to a wheelchair and has difficulty speaking, and Mendez-Valentin.

Veterans’ advocate Larry Rivera, who organized the group “A House for Robert” to find Reyes a suitable home to live in once he was discharged from James J. Peters VA Medical Center, hopes that the inquires from the VA do not delay the soldier’s return home.

“We have been working on this for years, and out of 15 different agencies involved, the Veterans Benefits Administration, [a division of the VA] is the only group to raise objections to the purchase of this house,” Rivera said.

The VA did not respond by press time.

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