By Alberto Suris
Erving Severino, owner of Independent Import Specialist, a mechanics workshop located at 139 Jackson St, Lawrence, received the following message from Kathleen Romano of Disabled American Veterans on Wednesday, July 24:
“Russell Keeler, a Lawrence resident, who made 2 tours in Vietnam, currently has a terminal illness due to his exposure to Agent Orange, a pesticide used during the Vietnam War. He suffers from type 2 diabetes resulting in having his legs amputated. His home in Lawrence is not handicapped accessible and is in (urgent) need of maintenance,” and immediately he went to meet Mr. Keeler.
During his visit he was able to verify first, that for 4 years the house has not been heated; that in the winter it is heated with portable electric heaters and because of this, the pipes were frozen and exploded and as a result, it has no running water in the house and the temperature in the bedroom was over 80º. In addition, the house lacks an access ramp for a wheelchair.
The day after his visit, he brought an air conditioner, which has eased the climate inside the room. Four days later, Sunday 28, in his spare time, he and his wife Jeannie, who are not veterans but DAV volunteers, showed up in Keeler‘s residence, in the company of 4 other volunteers and ignoring the 90º temperature, machete in hand, they cleaned the entire area around the house. The next day, DPW members collected all the garden waste.
For the benefit of Mr. Keeler, the news of his need has spread and the aid is perceived on the horizon.
“Our Team is looking at all options available to him. The number one priority is the safety as well as quality of life. I am glad to see from your images the various community groups that have taken a step forward to beautify his property,” said Massachusetts Secretary of Veterans Services, Francisco Ureña.
Likewise, the local office of the DAV-Queen City Chapter 2, 112A East Haverhill St., Lawrence reported that, “Now that the Disabled American Veterans and the Veterans Service Officer in Lawrence are aware of him, we will continue working with the federal government to obtain a 100% disability for him. Grants will be sent to the VA so that his disability at home is accessible.”
During a visit on the afternoon of Tuesday July 30 to the residence of Mr. Keeler by several people interested in helping him, among which was Martha Vélez, director of Health and Human Services for the City of Lawrence, Erving Severino and his wife Jeannie and Kelly Frazier, founder of International Veterans Care Services. Also present was Dawna Mackland-Rivera, who handed Mr. Keeler a disclosure form of the Privacy Act sent by Representative Frank Morán, “This form is for Senator Elizabeth Warren’s Office to help him with this matter,” Velez said. “Mr. Keeler gave his office permission to do so”.