Even though the wheelchair ramp in front of his house has been in place for months now, Joplin veteran Maurice Filson still finds himself staring at it in admiration.
“The welds,” he said, running an expert fingernail across a smooth connection, “are absolutely perfect.”
The 78-year-old knows a thing or two about strong welds, having retired from the Coffeyville, Kansas-based Funk Manufacturing Co. after 36 years. A few minutes later, with a grin, he was patting one of the metal bars with his hand. “You see that? Not a wobble.”
Filson likens the ramp — built earlier this year by the Joplin-based American Ramp Co. — to that of a small miracle. Why? Because he mentioned the need for the ramp in passing to his team nurse during a visit earlier this year at the Gene Taylor Outpatient Clinic in Mount Vernon, which has since closed, with operations moving to Springfield and 3015 S. Connecticut Ave. in Joplin.
While not confined to a wheelchair, “I have trouble with my (left) leg — I can only lift it off the floor (a few inches)," Filson said.
To his surprise, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs moved on his request almost immediately. He likened it to "a fish grabbing bait," the way they went for it.
“There wasn’t a hitch with anything,” Filson said.
It was Filson's son, Jonathan, a minister in Coffeyville, Kansas, who first informed Filson about the VA opportunity, telling him that a fellow veteran had received a new ramp from the VA. At the time, Filson was looking to have a wooden ramp built on his property, but paid for out of his own pocket.
About a week after speaking to his nurse, “I got a call from the VA, telling me that someone would be out to make measurements. By golly, the next thing I knew here they’d come, getting that sucker built.”
Over the next two weeks, American Ramp Co. employees pieced together the all-metal ramp, which bypassed his front porch's concrete steps and linked his front door to the nearby driveway.
“It’s made specifically for my house,” Filson said with a note of pride. “And it didn’t cost me a penny.”
Construction and installation of the ramp “is a medical benefit provided to all veterans" as long as an authentic medical need has been diagnosed and certified by a VA doctor, said Crystal Davis, public affairs specialist for the VA. Once a doctor has signed off on the need, she continued, a contract is let out to a registered vendor.
Filson joined the U.S. Navy in 1959, serving on the USS Shangri-La (CVA 38), an Essex-class aircraft carrier commissioned in 1944. Filson served two years active duty and four years in the reserves before leaving the service — just missing out on the war in Vietnam. He and his wife, Edie, moved to Joplin in 2004; she died four years ago.
“I’m sure there are other veterans out there having the same problem that I have and are a lot older than I am and deserve this type of thing,” he said. “The VA here in Joplin — it’s just top drawer.”