COUNCIL BLUFFS — A couple of local veterans were able to see the future in vehicle development for wounded warriors this week at Edwards Classic Chevrolet. Unfortunately, because of how benefits are given to wounded soldiers, they may never be able to afford the latest technology.
An Edwards employee is hoping legislators will change that soon.
Roger Rankin, commercial vehicle account manager at Edwards Auto Group, saw the work that Mobility SVM of Fort Wayne, Ind., was doing with General Motors products at a trade show in Dallas. He said he was speechless when he saw the demonstration.
“It brought tears to my eyes,” Rankin said about seeing the demo. “I knew this is what veterans needed. They no longer have to ride in the back of a minivan.”
Mobility SVM manufactures a full-size General Motors truck that is wheelchair accessible from either the driver or passenger side with a platform mobility lift. The lift allows the driver or passenger to remain in a wheelchair while using the pickup.
The vehicle at Classic this week was a 2012 Chevrolet Silverado that had been “up-fitted” with a wheelchair package. The two doors on the driver's side had been seamlessly welded together and slid out for a wheelchair-bound person to enter on an attached lift.
The lift would then raise the wheelchair into position for driving the truck. A standard seat could also be placed on the lift for others to drive as well.
Rankin said it takes Mobility 100 hours to convert a standard truck into a lift truck, and the cost is an additional $24,000 on top of the price of the truck.
Council Bluffs veteran Brad Lane has had five back surgeries from injuries suffered during his 24-year career in the U.S. Air Force. Scar tissue pressing on his spinal cord has left him needing to use a wheelchair.
Lane, 47, said it would be nice to have a vehicle like the one on display.
“It would mean I could go anywhere; I could go grocery shopping,” he said.
But Rankin said veterans injured in the line of service get only one vehicle upgraded by the government to meet their new needs. After that initial vehicle, it is up to the veterans to pay for any further modifications to vehicles.
“The government spent $4,000 to add a scooter carrier to Brad's vehicle. His health is only getting worse,” Rankin said. “To upfit a minivan would be $30,000, and he would have to pay for it.”
Rankin had staff members of U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and U.S. Reps. Steve King, R-Iowa, and Lee Terry, R-Neb., at the demonstration. He asked that the legislators look into giving wounded soldiers an upfit to a vehicle every seven to 10 years.
“The soldiers would buy the vehicles, but the government would pay to make them accessible,” he said.
Rankin said many of the soldiers wounded are young men who will need multiple vehicles throughout their lives.
“It's not fair,” he said. “These men served our country and they deserve more than one upfit in their lifetime.”