Michael M. Bichrest serves as Veteran Health Information Exchange (VHIE) Coordinator in support of VHIE Community Engagement for the Manchester, N.H., Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center. He also doubles as the service officer for American Legion Post 124 in Nashua, N.H.
It was his work as both, as well as in volunteer outreach efforts, that started the wheels in motion to provide two New Hampshire veterans with much-needed wheelchairs. It was a grass-roots effort involving two Legion posts connected through Department of New Hampshire Service Officer Curt Lenz that made the effort a success.
Bichrest was providing an outreach briefing to veterans who reside in the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association (AHEPA) 35 Senior Manor in Nashua. One of the veterans at the residence told Bichrest he had two wheelchairs he’d like to donate to someone else.
Bichrest reached out to Lenz “because I had no idea how to get these to the appropriate veteran,” he said. “As good fortune would have it, (Lenz) said he’d just had a veteran leave his office who needed one, and he knew of a second one (who also needed a wheelchair).”
Post 124 gave one of the wheelchairs to a Korean War veteran in Northwood, N.H. While Bichrest didn’t get to meet the veteran, he did talk to his son, who said his father loved the chair, thinking it was “like a Cadillac,” Bichrest said.
The second wheelchair was in need of renovations, including new wheels and batteries. Bichrest reached out to Rehabilitation Equipment Associates Inc. (REQ), which made the repairs to the wheelchair. “Those guys were great,” Bichrest said. “That chair is so old that the parts aren’t made anymore. But the tech over there was able to find some parts laying around the shop, and he made it work.”
Lenz was able to connect Bichrest and Post 124 with Frank Cartier, adjutant of Harriman-Hale Post 18 in the town of Wolfeboro, N.H., in order to facilitate providing the second wheelchair to Ivers Wetherbee, an 89-year-old Korean War veteran who lives about 10 miles from Post 18. The posts split the cost of the repairs to the wheelchair.
On Oct. 12, members of Post 18 picked up the chair from REQ and delivered it to Wetherbee the following week.
‘He was very, very pleased,” Cartier said of the wheelchair’s recipient. “He’s 89 years old, so he wasn’t jumping up and down. But he was excited. Very happy. He got right into the chair. We showed him how to use it and he was off and running. (His daughter) Mickey was absolutely ecstatic.”
Wetherbee wasn’t a member of Post 18, which Cartier said had no bearing on him receiving help. “We’re helping out veterans in our community, regardless if they’re members of our post or not. We’re taking care of them,” Cartier said. “But I will add this: (Wetherbee’s) daughter Mickey, she’s a veteran herself. So we’ve now gained two new members to our post."