Veteran has freedom to roam once more thanks to wheelchair-accessible van

Published 8:17 am Monday, March 27, 2017

A Danville military veteran Gary Young, his new wheelchair-accessible van has given him a whole lot more freedom.

It took four years of trying, but Young recently received a van through the Veterans Administration that is modified so he can drive and equipped with a ramp.

“It was a long-time coming,” Young said. “It probably gives a lot of people hope.”

Young, a Vietnam Veteran who had to have part of his leg removed in 2012, worked on the process to get a new van for about three and half years through the VA. He finally contacted the offices of Sen. Rand Paul and Rep. Brett Guthrie to seek their help.

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“Within 90 days, I had the paperwork for the van,” he said. “They gave me a one-time grant for the van and they put all of the gear in it.”

The van comes with a ramp that lowers, and the vehicle itself lowers when the ramp is extended. Young can lock into place behind the wheel and drive using his left foot.

“The van’s a big deal,” Young said. He’s the only one from the Lexington VA, he said, to get such a grant. 

About a year and half ago, Young’s SUV was condemned because the frame was bent on the wheelchair lift the vehicle was equipped with, making it unsafe for him to use.

For the last year and a half, until the van’s arrival earlier this year, Young was without any means of transportation.

Melissa Dye, a nurse who visits Young regularly through the VA home care program, said Young was unable to leave his home when he needed.

“He couldn’t even get to appointments that he needed to get to,” she said.

But now?

“It unleashed me. I was stranded; I couldn’t go,” Young said.

Young’s parents, Norman and Wanda, were originally from the Highland community in Lincoln County, and from Danville, respectively. 

“Dad was a preacher … They met just before World War II and got married. They moved to Detroit, Michigan; that’s where I was born,” Young said.

When he was about six, the family moved to Indianapolis, which is where he grew up. When his dad retired from ministry, his parents moved back to Kentucky, first to the Lancaster area in 1992. Young and his wife Linda made the move as well, and then to their home in Boyle County in 1994.

Young’s father, Norman, had served in the United States Army during World War II; he was a bronze star recipient. After Young’s mother passed, his dad lived with them in an apartment at their house until he passed away two years ago.

Young served in the U.S. Army from 1966 to 1969. He was in Vietnam in 1967, when his right hand was crushed.

He later injured his knee in the Army Wrestling Finals at Ft. Riley, Young said.

Kendra Peek/
Gary Young was a bootmaker when he was young, and still has a sample, with a photo album displaying his work, along with the publicity he received over the years.

Through vocational rehabilitation, Young learned how to repair shoes and make boots. He later taught his father, and they made a family business out of it.

“It was a family thing, with the shoe repair and boot making,” he said. 

Eventually, they sold the shoe repair and boot making business. Young, with his injury from wrestling, couldn’t stand at a piece of equipment called the “finisher.”

“I have a fused knee and I was two inches shorter on one side,” he said. “You have to stand at the finisher. I tried to sit with a stool and all of that — you can’t do it.”

In 2009, the ice storm hit central Kentucky. During that storm, Young fell down his stairs.

“I started down those stairs with a big flashlight. I missed a step. I thought I would sit down, but everything went black,” Young said. “I ended up going all the way to the bottom, hit the wall and snapped my leg.”

Due to the weather conditions, the Boyle County Fire Department had to come get him.

“It was a tough thing, because the ice was so big. There was a whole cave going out through here — they had to take me out the back door and go around,” Young said.

He was transported to the Lexington VA Medical Center, where he learned that his leg was broken.

Issues with medications and further complications eventually led to doctors removing part of his leg in 2012.

Unfortunately, Young’s house isn’t ideal for a wheelchair. There are rooms he’s not been in since the accident, because he can’t maneuver around the angles or doorways in his chair. To get into his bedroom, he has to go out the kitchen door, onto the back porch, and around into a back door of his bedroom.

He’s now working on getting a grant, with the help of Sen. Paul and Rep. Guthrie’s offices, to make some repairs to the house.

“This is the place I always wanted. It’s a great place out here,” Young said of his house, which overlooks the Dix River.

Young has a new chair, which he received on Wednesday, which he says has enabled him to cook again — something he’s missed doing.

Kendra Peek/
Veteran Gary Young received a new van after the frame bent on the ramp on his accessible SUV. It’s possible for Young to leave his house again, for the first time in two years.

With his modified van, Young has been able to drive again, but the pedals are different — the gas is on the left. But relearning to drive has made it possible for him and his wife to do lots of things they couldn’t before.

“I go to the store. We go to the movies … I can go anyplace that’s got a ramp,” he said. “I can go to church … We have a good time with that.”

Follow Kendra Peek on Twitter, @knpeek.