Over Thanksgiving, Fate resident Gary Wilkins received some much needed care from American Legion Post 100, which helped raise more than $2,000 for the veteran to receive wheelchair upgrades to his vehicle.
“We were just happy to be there for a veteran who felt like they had nowhere else to turn,” American Legion Post 100 founder Jason Castleberry said.
There was a time in Wilkins’ life when he would traverse across American roads on his yellow motorcycle, or on his 18-wheeler as a trucker.
Wilkins, a Vietnam War-era veteran, suffered an accident shortly after he completed training for the Marine Corps. After a lengthy career as a truck driver, he retired and began volunteering for the Red Cross, responding to different disaster events around the country.
But in May 2014, Wilkins was involved in a car crash that left him in a coma and seriously injured. He woke from his coma about two months later, with no recollection of what had happened and his mobility significantly affected.
Through various medical procedures and surgeries, doctors attempted to fix his left leg.
Wilkins received a full knee replacement in April 2016, but he found out shortly thereafter that he had a severe infection that would require an amputation.
The Veterans Administration office helped Wilkins through grants to purchase an electric wheelchair, as well as some other services that he now needed.
The veterans office, however, rejected Wilkin’s request for a grant for a vehicle that could be repurposed into a wheelchair accessible car.
He had spent 10 years as a volunteer for the Red Cross, but when Wilkins reached out to the organization for help, he said the organization declined.
Wilkins found himself feeling abandoned by a network that he had worked to build for a decade, and without the help of the Veterans Administration office, was facing a bill of more than $38,000.
That’s when he turned to the American Legion in Royse City for help.
“I had mentioned to (Castleberry,) I believe it was the first time I met him,” Wilkins said. “Speaking with him made me want to transfer my membership from Mesquite to Royse City.”
Castleberry told Wilkins that he would help look for organizations and sponsors that might be willing to help a veteran in need.
They reached out to different nonprofits, such as the Bill Gates Foundation and the Gary Sinise Foundation, but found little success.
Castleberry and the American Legion did not give up, and started a GoFundMe page dedicated to Wilkins.
Though the Veterans Administration office did not accept Wilkins’ request for a grant for a vehicle, they agreed to cover any upgrades that he would need to a vehicle.
With the help of funds raised through the online fundraiser, Wilkins was able to make the upgrades to a van that he and his wife purchased.
“I loved it. It was wonderful,” Wilkins said.
Wilkins, who still needs to attend physical therapy on a regular basis, said the new upgrades to the vehicle will give him and his wife, both in their 60s, an easier time making hospital appointments.
Though far from the freedom he felt on his motorcycle or his truck, Wilkins said the new vehicle additions will help him attend meetings for the American Legion and help him be more social again.
With his sense of humor still in tact, Wilkins said he looks forward to being able to be more mobile.
“It’s a start. It’ll help me get out of the house and be more active again,” Wilkins said.