Local van helps disabled American veterans get around

By Evan Pajer - Staff Writer
East Hartford - posted Fri., Mar. 1, 2013
The van belonging to the East Hartford DAV chapter is used to give rides to disabled veterans. Photos by Evan Pajer.
The van belonging to the East Hartford DAV chapter is used to give rides to disabled veterans. Photos by Evan Pajer.

One thing that visitors to East Hartford's Town Hall may not notice during their visit is the presence of a van parked on the edge of the lot. That van belongs to Disabled American Veterans, a national group with a chapter in East Hartford that provides a number of services to disabled veterans throughout the town and the state. DAV Chapter 12 of East Hartford is headed by Bernie Corona, who volunteers as a driver for the organization. Corona has been driving for the organization for 10 years.

Corona said that East Hartford's DAV chapter is the largest in the state, and operates in a slightly different fashion from most of the other chapters. "The main force of the DAV people are working out of Newington VA Hospital or the West Haven VA hospital," Corona said. "The DAV has volunteer drivers in all states in the country. We furnish the vans, but we also turn them over to the VA people at those hospitals because the state registers them for us."

Corona said that unlike most chapters, the East Hartford chapter has its own van, which is used to pick up veterans from surrounding areas and take them to the hospitals. "Town Hall was good enough to let us park there. What we do is park there, pick up the van, go to the people's homes in Manchester or East Hartford, and then we bring it back. It's so that people understand we're not using it for our personal business," he said.

One of Corona's regulars is Retired Master Sgt. Jim Dawson, who served in the U.S. Army for 26 years, including tours in the Korean war and the Vietnam conflict. Dawson describes his condition as being around 50 percent disabled. "I can get around, but I have trouble using my legs," he said. Dawson said that without Corona and the services provided by DAV, he would have difficulty making it to his medical appointments at the Veterans Affairs hospital in Newington.

"I don't know how many other vets are using the benefits, but it comes in handy, especially when the weather is lousy and there's snow on the ground. It's a real convenience helping me to get there, because otherwise how would I?" he said. "Bernie has done an outstanding job. He takes me to my appointments, and we get there on time."

Dawson said that he used to drive disabled veterans to the Newington hospital, but stopped because of his condition. "I don't drive so much anymore unless I have to," he said. "My condition slows me down, and I have to be over-cautious."

Dawson and many others represent the more than 900 disabled veterans who are part of the East Hartford chapter. Corona said that even though he knew Dawson from his time in the Army reserve, volunteering with DAV caused them to become close friends. "That's what happens - you take so many people dozens of times, and you become friends with them. It happens with a lot of our volunteer drivers," he said.

Dawson said that there are many other veterans who need the help DAV provides. "They're a lifesaver for a lot of us guys," he said.

DAV also provides other valuable services to veterans, including assisting veterans with their claims to the VA. "We have people who help them put in their claims with the VA. They're also out of Newington, but we have an officer there who helps," Corona said.

Corona said that the state DAV chapter also provides assistance to homeless veterans. "They help pick up homeless veterans and take them to shelters like South Park Inn," he said.  "We support what they're doing, so we pick up homeless veterans and take them right there," he said. Corona said that in the past, he has driven homeless veterans to the shelter. "It's something we enjoy doing because we're veterans," Corona said.

Corona said that anyone interested in being a volunteer driver for the organization should contact the Newington VA Hospital at 860-666-6951 and ask for John Carbone, who directs the program out of the Newington hospital. Corona said that his organization works closely with the Newington and West Haven VA hospitals to find veterans who need to be driven to their appointments.

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