COLUMBIA — Ron Hamilton’s full graying beard grazed the top of Tabatha Goyette's head as they embraced Thursday in front of Truman Veterans Hospital.
“OK, you’re going to make us all cry,” Cindy Stivers, women’s veterans program manager at the hospital, said while watching the pair hug. “You deserve it, girl.”
Hamilton, commander of Disabled American Veterans chapter 65, coordinated the donation of a maroon wheelchair-accessible 2007 Chrysler Town & Country minivan to Goyette, a veteran who has Still's disease, a rare condition that can lead to arthritis and other problems.
The widow of veteran William E. Kinder gave the van to chapter 65 and wanted it to go to a young combat veteran with children. Goyette, 42, met the requirements.
Hamilton searched for a candidate through newspaper ads, but had no luck. Then, he approached the veterans hospital.
Julie Heese, a case manager at the hospital, Denise Heet, caregiver support program coordinator, and Stivers worked together to find a veteran in need of wheelchair-accessible transportation.
“(Goyette) became ill and became diagnosed with a debilitating illness,” Heese said. “We looked at several wheelchair-bound combat veterans, and she was the one who did not have a wheelchair-accessible vehicle.”
Nate Witt, volunteer manager at the hospital, said Disabled American Veterans plays an integral role in transporting veterans who live across the state to and from the hospital for their appointments. The organization has a fleet of 34 vans driven by volunteers.
“We wouldn’t be able to do what we do without that organization,” Witt said.
Goyette served the army by transporting active duty soldiers and civilians to the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research Burn Center in San Antonio. Because of her condition, Goyette must use a wheelchair.
Goyette received notice a month and a half ago that the van would be hers after a dealership made some minor refurbishments to the wheelchair ramp. Her teary reaction, her husband Joey Goyette said, revealed her appreciation and excitement.
“She was ecstatic,” Heese said. “She couldn’t believe it.”
The same day she received the minivan, Tabatha Goyette’s son-in-law Codi Johnson, who's in the Army, was deployed from his base in Colorado. His wife, Tabatha Goyette’s daughter, and their four children came to stay with the Goyettes while he serves. Tabatha Goyette said having the vehicle will allow her the opportunity to go out with her daughter and bond more closely with her family.
“I’m very close to my son-in-law,” Tabatha Goyette said. “He’s my boy. My daughter is very fortunate they have each other. We’ll be able to get her mind off of him being deployed.”
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