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Teamwork Helps Vet Keep on Truckin’

Reprinted from PN January 2010

Further OPTIONS, a developer of vehicle-entry systems for wheelchair users, helps people with physical challenges get back behind the wheel.

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Further OPTIONS, an Illlinois-based developer of innovative vehicle-entry systems for wheelchair users, announces that U.S. Army Captain James Howard, of Fort Bragg, N.C., is its first military customer.

As a result of Captain Howard’s perseverance and the assistance of many government officials and private mobility industry vendors, his 2009 Chevrolet Silverado is being equipped with Further OPTIONS’ U.S. Patent-pending DMS Pickup Truck Wheelchair Entry System, winner of the Adaptive Driving Alliance’s 2009 New Technology Award for Innovation in Engineering and Technology for people with physical challenges.

Like the Old Days

Howard, 29, is a combat veteran of the Iraq War who served as an 82nd Airborne Division platoon leader. He is proud to have brought every member of his platoon home alive. He also led an advance party into New Orleans as part of the Hurricane Katrina rescue efforts.

Howard had almost completed his Special Forces Qualification Course in February 2008 when he sustained a C6–7 spinal-cord injury as a result of a diving accident. “I truly believe everything happens for a reason,” he says, “and see my injury as a blessing by misfortune.” According to the captain, his life has barely slowed down.


Addition of Further OPTIONS' DMS System to Captain James Howard's (shown at right) truck allows him to operate the vehicle from his wheelchair.

“One of my favorite pastimes is traveling. My fiancé and I still go out on weekends, and travel all the time, but the difference is that she always has had to drive. So, it’ll be nice to drive again, so she can relax in the passenger seat—just like the old days.”

The DMS System is designed to allow drivers to operate their vehicle from their wheelchair, without transferring. Howard, whose previous vehicles were trucks and a Jeep Wrangler, was especially intent on driving a truck. He is counting on his new truck to get him to and from work independently; he counsels injured soldiers returning from overseas.

“If you want something bad enough, you’ve got to push to try to get it,” he says. “That’s what I did. The biggest thing people in the military need to understand is, with PM&R and the VA system, it’s often who you talk to. I’ve been very fortunate that a lot of people have helped me get to this point.”

Referrals Helped

A key connection was Jason Blackwell of Richmond’s Mobility Center of Virginia (MCVA). Blackwell knew of Howard’s interest in driving a truck and learned about the DMS System from a presentation given by Certified Driver Rehab Specialist John Vaughter from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PM&R), in Richmond.

In 2003, Scott Darnell, who is quadriplegic, and David Gotter established Further OPTIONS. Inspired by the ADA award win and encouragement received at the annual National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association (NMEDA) conference in February 2009, Darnell had reached out to U.S. Army Captain Tammy Phipps of Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., who referred him to Vaughter.

Howard’s DMS-equipped Silverado will be delivered to MCVA for driving-equipment installation and custom fitting. His vehicle allowance covered much of the cost of purchasing the truck, and the modifications are VA-approved and fully covered.

“Anyone who needs to know anything about the whole process of getting something like this can contact me,” Howard says. “It’s a great piece of equipment. I’m pretty sure I’m going to be able to go from my house in my power chair, jump in that truck, and just go—whenever I need to. I look forward to having that whole experience I had before, and on top of that, just getting back into the work force.”

Asked if he couldn’t do most of these things in a van, his reply was short but full of meaning: “Yeah, but you know....”

To request further information from Captain Howard or any of the others mentioned above, contact Darnell at 618-664-3178.  

 

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Teamwork Helps Vet Keep on Truckin’

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