GRAND LAKE- Right in the spirit of the giving season, a network of veterans is helping one of their own by giving him a like-new van to accommodate his disability.
Michael "The General Smith," a 31-year resident of Grand County, has been coping with transverse myelitis since 2010, a neurological disorder that causes inflammation of the spinal cord. The disorder has rendered him paralyzed below his arms.
When Grand County's Veteran's Officer Duane Dailey called up the Smiths in October asking them if they would like an almost new adaptive van, they were quick to say yes.
They've been "limping along" in a 1982 GMC diesel van they bought for $500, with its makeshift ramp, a sputtering radiator, a back door that needs a rope to secure it shut, an exhaust pipe that spews black smoke, and a heater that barely works.
"People in the community have been very generous to us helping us maintain it," said Michael's wife Cathy Walton-Smith, "but now we won't need that anymore, hopefully."
Dailey came across the opportunity to acquire the like-new 2000 Ford F-150 adaptive van while he was at a District 14 American Legion meeting in Steamboat Springs this fall. An announcement was made that the American Legion Post 44 of Steamboat had a wheelchair-accessible vehicle and wanted to give it to a veteran in need. A disabled veteran in Florida, Judy Smith (no relation to the Grand County Smiths), who had a part-time home in Steamboat, no longer wanted the van and gave it to Post 44 to find a new wheelchair-bound owner for it.
In consulting with Grand County's former veterans affair officer Dave Jones, Dailey called the Smiths, then was the first to get dibs on the van.
Dailey estimates the van with just 20,000 miles and all its adaptive equipment is worth about $35,000 to $40,000.
Since the vehicle has all the bells, whistles and gadgets necessary to allow driving by hand rather than by hands and feet, The General will become more self-sufficient, Walton-Smith said. He is working on getting his driving certification, she said. He also will be able to enter the vehicle with more ease than he did with their other van.
"It's really a very nice vehicle," she said. "We're very tickled, very thrilled. We're very appreciative. It's a godsend."
The General, a Navy veteran from the Vietnam era, is a member of Granby's American Legion Post 88, and Walton-Smith's dad has been a member since WW II.
- Tonya Bina can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603