Veteran helping disabled vet, wife rehabilitate home

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James Kushto and his wife, Brandy, have had more than their share of troubles.

While a Marine in Afghanistan in fall 2009, Mr. Kushto, 36, suffered a traumatic brain injury in combat that left him deaf in his right ear and caused him to have lapses of memory, loss of equilibrium and severe headaches.

"He also suffers from post traumatic stress disorder, and the military rates him 90 percent disabled," Mrs. Kushto said.

Complicating the situation was a house fire that took all their possessions a month after Mr. Kushto left Afghanistan for North Carolina in December 2009. The loss was so stressful, Mrs. Kushto said, she suffered a miscarriage, the fifth in the couple's 12-year relationship.

Then in July 2010, Mrs. Kushto, 38, had an automobile accident while driving her husband home from a visit to the doctor and broke two discs in her back. Surgery to repair the discs affected her nervous system, she said, requiring a pacemaker implant. As a result, she is now disabled too.

In March, the couple moved to southwestern Pennsylvania to live near Mr. Kushto's boyhood home, Irwin, renting a two-bedroom house in Fayette City. To make room for their daughter, Ashley, 17, the couple recently decided to purchase a larger house in Donora, owned by their current landlord.

However, the house needs costly improvements to bring it up to code, and they are unable to move in until repairs are completed. In November, they found themselves facing rent on their current home and a mortgage payment on their Donora dwelling, a financial drain that may be repeated in subsequent months.

Coming to their rescue has been former Marine and Iraq combat veteran, Christopher Thompson of Monongahela. The 24-year-old said he first heard of the couple's plight while attending classes at California University of Pennsylvania.

"Both James and Brandy are first-year students at the university, and one day in Math 101 I noticed that Brandy was wearing a Marine hoodie," said Mr. Thompson. "After striking up a conversation with her, I learned about their housing problems and decided to help."

Mr. Thompson began speaking in classes at the university, telling of the Kushtos' troubles, and passing around a sign-up sheet for those interested in helping. He got the university's sororities and fraternities to join in construction work and used social media such as Facebook and Twitter to make the couple's needs even more widely known.

So far, he's been successful in getting students, residents of surrounding communities and fellow former Marines and reservists to join in the work detail. Marine reservist Ethan Cline, an employee of the Washington County Leaders Program, brought in 10 juveniles through the juvenile probation office to help with priming and painting the walls and cleanup. Doug and Beth Cushey of Monongahela donated wiring. Others have helped by knocking down old walls and installing new drywall.

"There's still a lot left to be done," Mr. Thompson said. "We need to reposition the circuit box and install new electrical wiring. The house needs new stairs on both floors as well as new flooring and new bathroom equipment. There are no range outlets in the kitchen, and the Kushtos need a new refrigerator and a washer and dryer.

"With so much yet to be finished, it's hard for Jim and me to do everything because we have such a tough class schedule at school," Mrs. Kushto said. "Although no one has donated any money, many people have helped get the house in order, and we've got our fingers crossed that we might be able to move in soon."

Even though Mr. Thompson has been working on the project for about two weeks, he's managed to get as many as 20 volunteers to help out in a single day.

"Chris has been just great," Mr. Kushto said. "And we've gotten a tremendous amount of support from people in the community, the student body at Cal and fellow Marines. "They've all put in a tremendous effort for which Brandy and I are very grateful."

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Dave Zuchowski, freelance writer:


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