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Disabled vet seeking help repairing Donora home

| Saturday, Nov. 10, 2012, 12:02 a.m.
Disabled U.S. Marine veteran James Kushto and his wife, Brandy, are seeking assistance repairing a home they purchased in Donora. They are both full-time California University of Pennsylvania students. Rick Bruni Jr./The Valley Independent
Disabled U.S. Marine veteran James Kushto and his wife, Brandy, are seeking assistance repairing a home they purchased in Donora. They are both full-time California University of Pennsylvania students. Rick Bruni Jr./The Valley Independent
Veteran James Kushto is looking for a few more good men.Kushto, a U.S. Marine sergeant who sustained a traumatic head injury three years ago in Afghanistan, needs help getting his newly-acquired home in Donora up to code. He and his wife, Brandy, are seeking both a certified electrician and plumber to offer their services.The Kushtos - both full-time California University of Pennsylvania students - and two teenage daughters currently rent a two-bedroom house in Fayette City. Last year, they acquired a 100-year-old, five-story house along Meldon Avenue in Donora and quickly found themselves over their heads."The price was right and we knew it needed a little work, but the work we thought it needed done was cleaning," said James, 36, who grew up near Irwin. "I was trying to work on the house myself. Our landlord understands that we took on more than we thought we were taking on."The Kushtos have already received an outpouring of support, in the form of more than two dozen laborers - from a Cal U fraternity to a Washington County probation officer bringing over 10 juveniles to work on the house."To date, there have been 37 different people helping us - from military personnel, students and members of the community," James said. "It's been overwhelming. They have inspired us to keep going."U.S. Marine Cpl. Chris Thompson, a fellow Cal U student, saw Brandy Kushto wearing a Marines sweatshirt at one of their classes last month. The two struck up a conversation."Everything goes back to Chris," Brandy Kushto said. "Being in the Marines has always been like our family."She told Thompson, 24, about their housing plight. Thompson met James a day later and has been either laboring at the house or enlisting help from students and fellow military veterans ever since."I've given them as much assistance as I possibly can, speaking in class, putting out rosters for people to volunteer," said Thompson, a Tennessee native deployed twice to Iraq who now resides in Monongahela. "I know there are great people out there and I'm a firm believer that once I got the message out, people would respond because we're all Americans."So far, repairs have included massive cleaning, framing and hanging five separate walls to renovating a deteriorating staircase. But there is no running water in the house and a circuit box needs moved off a window and onto a solid wall. There also needs to be outlets installed for a range and other appliances.A certified electrician is the only one who can perform such work and bring everything up to spec. James Kushto has received estimates averaging between $3,500 and $4,000."We need a certified electrician to perform the work and they have to sign off on it," Thompson said. "If it gets to a certain point, James is going to be paying rent and a mortgage at the same time."The Kushtos could also use a plumbing expert."The water heater isn't hooked up and there's no working bathroom," Brandy Kushto said. "There's no working bath in the whole house."The Kushtos have already undergone their share of setbacks.In fall of 2009, James Kushto was training Afghani soldiers in the Garmsir District of Helmand Province when one diminutive trainee, wearing a Kevlar helmet, ran past and accidently smashed through Kushto's chin. All Kushto could remember seeing was a bright light."There were actually 19 diagnosed disabilities that have come from this, everything from I'm deaf in my left ear, to memory problems, to 38 percent loss of equilibrium," he said."I was almost ready to pick up staff sergeant when I got home, but they wouldn't let me handle a gun. They want me to use a cane, but I won't use one. I've been stopped by police and hospital security thinking I'm inebriated."Not even a year later, his wife suffered a broken back in a car accident, underwent two surgeries and now bears a pacemaker as a result. The couple had already lost a child due to a miscarriage after he returned from deployment in 2009 and their military house also caught fire, claiming most of their possessions."It's been a journey, that's kind of our slogan for our life," his wife said. "After he got his papers, we had a week to move. We knew we were moving into the Pittsburgh area and I found this house (in Fayette City) online."The couple and their daughters have been living on James Kushto's disability."We're a one-income family because we're both full-time students," she continued. "If we didn't have the house (in Donora), we'd be fine, because we live minimally, we live like college students, we eat peanut butter and jelly."The Kushtos said they would also gladly accept donations of appliances and furniture. James Kushto who has refused cash donations before, said he would be willing to take checks, but only if he gives the donor a receipt for products purchased."I'm a proud person," he said. "The whole house needs flooring and we're only trying to get two floors done so we can make the house move-in ready. Our whole objective is just to move in. Lowe's said they would sell us low-end flooring at cost, but that's still about $800 and that's $800 we don't have."Still, for the couple, there is no going back now. Volunteers have already filled up 150, 45-gallon trash bags."We didn't really understand how much we were taking on but, more importantly, the generosity of the people in this area have come together to help us do this insane thing," James Kushto said. "It would be an insult to the community and the people who've helped us not to carry this through. We'll live in that house for the rest of our lives. The day we move in, we're already going to know the community is a warm-spirited, generous and kind place."Brandy Kushtos cannot wait for that day - and every day after."When I think about finally moving and walking through that house, I will think about every single person that helped us," she said, tearing up. "And every single person will be a part of that house."Anyone interested in helping the family can contact Chris Thompson at or James Kushtos at
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