HARRINGTON PARK, N.J. — When Kyle Chappell, the so-called “Miracle Marine,” needed help modifying his home to maneuver his wheelchair, Doug DiPaola of Harrington Park was happy to help.
DiPaola, 57, founded Homes for Veterans , a nonprofit, precisely for people like Chappell.
“I learned there are a lot of injured veterans who need help with things that do not meet the requirements of any VA program,” he said.
Their needs include widening doorways, installing ramps, creating roll-in showers, and modifying kitchens.
Chappell, who lives in Boonton, served two tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq. But he was severely injured in an April 2015 motorcycle accident after he returned to civilian life.
He was riding to his job as an electrician at Esposito’s Electric in Denville when it happened.
Chappell lost a leg in the incident. His lungs collapsed. His liver, kidney, and spleen were lacerated. He also was decapitated from within.
At home, he faced dangerous realities, given his long medical recuperation. First, he needed a chairlift to get in and out of his mother’s 1950s Ranch-style house.
“Taking a shower was just dangerous,” Chappell said, “so there needed to be an improvement in some way. I’m still not super mobile so getting in and out of bathtubs is not preferable.”
Homes for Veterans modified the Chappell bathroom for free. It removed a vanity, giving the Marine easy access to the sink, and replaced the tub with a roll-in shower.
In its four years of existence, Homes for Veterans has assisted 15 veterans, including four in Clifton, with such projects.
The $10,000 for the Chappell project was raised by special events at The Gym in Englewood and Montvale.
“The owner and members of The Gym are outstanding,” said DiPaola.
The Record of Woodland Park also contributed a percentage of the revenues from its annual Veterans Day pullout, he added.
Homes for Veterans actively encourages other veterans to apply for its help and community members to support its work.
DiPaola, a printer and general contractor, became aware of veterans who fall through the cracks in 2010. That’s when he discovered a former coworker, who’d been laid off in 2008, was living on the streets of Paterson.
“There’s a guy who was a Vietnam vet and who came to work every day for years,” DiPaola said. “He told me the VA helps vets with problems that are service connected.”
DiPaola is happy to fill unmet needs for those who served.
He was too young to fight in Vietnam, he said. But now he can help those who did.