Disabled Veterans Receive Use of Free Wheelchair Van

US military branch uniform patches with dog tags

The James A. Haley Veterans Hospital in Tampa, FL, is the busiest of four poly-trauma facilities serving the members of our nation's military. The hospital serves veterans of all ages and degrees of injury or illness, including dozens of young soldiers who've returned from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with life-altering conditions, such as traumatic brain or spinal cord injuries.

If there could be a bright side to their situation, it's that they were treated in the same city where Jennifer Tracey worked and volunteered. Jennifer used to be a sales representative for Ride-Away (a BraunAbility mobility dealer headquartered in New Hampshire). She coordinated an inventive and inspirational program called Vans for Valor, which provided free wheelchair vans to qualifying vets until they were able to make arrangements for their own accessible vehicle. Unfortunately, the Vans for Valor Program no longer exists today, however, the program was able to help many veterans who needed wheelchair accessible vehicles.

It was a perfect fit for Jennifer. Her father, brother, and son were all members of the military, and she volunteered 15 or more hours a week at the veteran's hospital and neighboring Fisher House, a "home away from home" for families of acutely hospitalized patients.

"It's a great partnership," explained Jennifer. "We're able to provide a service they deserve, and at the same time build a relationship with them."

Vans for Valor Program Supporting Veterans

Here's how Vans for Valor worked: a consultant met with the veteran to determine what type of handicap van would best meet his or her needs. Later, the modified van is delivered by Ride-Away to the vet's home. The family would use the mobility van free of charge -- Ride-Away paid for the maintenance, insurance, registration, and adaptive equipment costs -- essentially a free wheelchair van -- until they were "ready to roll" with their own adaptive vehicle. In fact, the only financial responsibility the veteran had was to pay for fuel.

Through Jennifer's dedication, Vans for Valor was very successful and provided exceptional service to our veterans. This program allowed for many veterans to try out a wheelchair van and resulted in dozens of vehicles to be purchased. 

Word-of-mouth advertising increased the program's popularity. "When a patient with a disability is admitted to the hospital, the others are always telling him or her, "You've got to meet Jennifer from Ride-Away!'" she said.

Jennifer's enthusiasm for supporting our veterans, through her work and volunteer efforts, was contagious. One phone conversation with her had me reflecting on how often I take our military and their efforts for granted. She was especially excited that Ride-Away would co-sponsor a float with BraunAbility at the 2009 National Memorial Day Parade in Washington D.C., which is held each year on Memorial Day. This event included General Colin Powel, General Michael Mullen, Joe Mantegna, Gary Sinise, and of course, retired and active-duty military heroes.

BraunAbility would like to extend our sincere appreciation to all of our veterans and to the volunteers like Jennifer Tracey who make sure they're recognized.

Although RideAway and Vans for Valor no longer exist, BraunAbility offers veteran support to help navigate the benefits and programs for disabled veterans. We'd be happy to answer any questions you might have about our wheelchair accessible vehicles or mobility products.

For a look at additional veterans programs and resources, click on the links below: