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Keystone Paralyzed Vets wins contest, gets van to transport members

| Wednesday, April 17, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

A new set of wheels will help transport local paralyzed veterans to key medical appointments at the VA Pittsburgh Health Care System.

The Keystone Paralyzed Vets, headquartered along Main Street in Sharpsburg, showed off its new Toyota Sienna Mobility van on Friday. The organization won the van in a February contest.

“We don't anticipate an overload but there are gaps to be plugged,” said Joe Dornbrock, Keystone Paralyzed Vets executive director, adding that his group previously had no way to accommodate all of its members' transportation needs.

“Some of our veterans don't qualify for transportation. The VA finds ways to get them there but this will provide some relief.”

Volunteers are needed to help drive the van a couple hours a week. The organization will provide training to operate the van's speciality features, adapted by Keystone Coach Works. The vehicle is equipped with a power ramp, a movable front seat and other wheelchair-friendly accessories.

Dornbrock said there is a push to make sure the local veterans are getting the benefit of their annual spinal cord exams. He is working with the spinal cord injury clinic at the O'Hara Heinz Division of the VAPHS to identify paralyzed vets who lack transportation for basic medical care.

They are also surveying Keystone chapter members in Allegheny County to assess transport needs, he said.

Nearly half of the Department of Veterans Affairs budget is funneled to medical care, Dornbrock said.

“But they can't do everything,” he said.

The vehicle was won through Toyota's 100 Cars for Good program, which encourages the public to vote on how corporate funds will be awarded. Mark Podrosky, general manager of the Pittsburgh Toyota dealership that distributed the van, said he couldn't think of a better group to get the van.

“The veterans have protected us and need this mobility,” he said.

Dornbrock said the van will be used most often to transport about 75 vets to doctor visits but will go a long way in helping with other services provided by his office, which supports about 300 paralyzed vets and monitors treatment conditions in five VA medical centers across the state.

Most recently, Dornbrock and his staff used the van to deliver Easter bags to 500 hospitalized patients.

“Most regular cars couldn't have accommodated that,” he said.

Anyone interested in volunteering to drive the van can call Dornbrock at 412-781-2474.

Tawnya Panizzi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-782-2121, ext. 2 or tpanizzi@tribweb.com.

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