Rhode Island Post on Track with Donation

VFW Post 2929 in Smithfield, R.I., coordinated a statewide effort to raise funds for an all-terrain wheelchair for a disabled veteran

Efforts from a Rhode Island VFW Post have provided Afghanistan War veteran Tim Underwood with an all-terrain wheelchair, improving his quality of life.

Underwood, who served in Afghanistan from 2009 to 2010 with the 3rd Sqdn., 61st Cav, 4th BCT, 4th Inf. Div., was wounded in April 2010. He was shot three times (once in the throat/jaw, once in the spine and once in the kidney), and spent roughly seven months hospitalized. As a result, Underwood is paralyzed from the waist down.RI Post Wheelchair

Post 2929, in Smithfield, R.I., raised $18,000 over 18 months to purchase a TrackChair. Interested veterans had to fill out a form and go through an interview process to be selected as the recipient of the chair.

Post 2929 member Gary Gearheart, who also served as lead project manager for the TrackChair, said the project started to show the community what VFW stands for.

Gearheart said it was his idea to provide a TrackChair to a veteran — an idea spurred from spending time at the VA.

And Rhode Island District 1 Commander Tony Fonseca, also a member of Post 2929, said he had the idea to take the project from the Post to statewide.

“I thought it should be a statewide project to bring some recognition to the Veterans of Foreign Wars and how they support veterans, especially veterans in need,” said Fonseca, who served during Vietnam from 1968-69 with A Co., 5th Med. Bn., 5th Marine Div., as a corpsman.

At least a dozen Posts throughout Rhode Island contributed to the purchase, along with individual Post members, according to Gearheart.

Underwood said he started talking with the Post, of which he is a member, around February or March and was told in April that he would receive the chair.

Gearheart said the Post “couldn’t have found a better person to give the TrackChair to.”

Underwood said he was “pretty happy” about receiving the chair. He currently uses it to take trash to the end of his 1,000-foot-long driveway and to navigate trails on his property, but would like to start hunting soon.

“It’s definitely improved things,” Underwood said. “I can go on the trails on my property… [and I’m] more independent.”

Gearheart, who served in Vietnam (1969-70) and in 1991’s Persian Gulf War, said it took about 18 months to raise the funds for the chair itself. The “difficult” part, according to Gearheart, was “trying to find a qualified representative to give the TrackChair to.”

“Tim turned out to be the perfect candidate when he came in to be interviewed,” Gearheart said.

Underwood plays wheelchair tennis and works out regularly. He also lives on property that is “mostly forest with a few trails.” 

The Post officially presented the TrackChair to Underwood on Memorial Day at an event in Deerfield Park in Smithfield, in front of at least 100 people.

Fonseca said Underwood was “just kind of floored by the whole situation.”

“Literally hundreds of people at this organization [were] applauding him for what he gave, and I think he felt very honored, very distinguished by that applause,” Fonseca said. “At that point, I think the chair was secondary.”

Photo caption: Tim Underwood displays his new TrackChair, which VFW Post 2929 in Smithfield, R.I., purchased. The Post raised $18,000 through a statewide effort to buy the chair that is designed specifically for outdoor use. Photo courtesy of GinaMarie Doherty.

This article is featured in the September 2017 issue of VFW magazine and was written by Kari Williams, senior writer, VFW magazine.