This past summer disabled veteran Lisa Ditell, who hosts a program called The Hutchinson Veterans’ Outreach Program, came to Angel Reins Stable in Clearwater to talk to the volunteers about what they do and how it benefits veterans for her show. While she was there, Angel Reins founder Kathy Zachman noticed her van was in really poor shape.
“I heard Him (God) say, ‘she needs a new van,’” said Zachman. “He always comes through, so although I had no idea how we would be able to get her one, I knew we would.”
Not long afterward Zachman heard from the Clearwater Legion Riders that Angel Reins was once again going to be one of the recipients of the money raised by their annual Homeless Vets Run held the first weekend in August. She asked if they could use those funds to help purchase Ditell a van and was given an enthusiastic yes.
Ditell was injured during her service in the army, breaking three bones in her foot. After being fitted with a cast she went back into the field and ended up tearing the ligaments and tendons in both her legs while she was jumping in and out of foxholes. Due to this she was medically discharged in 1982.
She was later diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a genetic condition that affects the connectives tissues that hold parts of the body in place and support the body’s organs. Skin, joints, and blood vessel walls are primarily affected areas.
Although Ditell has crutches and leg braces, she can’t stand for long periods of time and often uses a wheelchair, so a vehicle that allows her to transport her wheelchair is crucial.
She was very surprised when she was told about the efforts to purchase her a new van.
“It shocked the heck out of me,” said Ditell. “I was in tears for a few days. Usually people don’t surprise me but this did. It was amazing.”
She decided the Legion Riders’ Homeless Vets Run would be a great subject for her program, so the day of the event she brought along her camera to film video of it. She was shocked when, just before the live auction portion of the event started, a hat was passed around the crowd to collect money for her. Incredibly, close to $3,000 was raised.
By the end of the event enough money had been raised – $12,500 – to purchase a new-used van. ‘Passing the hat around’ had collected $2,856, Clearwater Legion Riders contributed an additional $5,000, Monticello VFW groups $4,000, and private donations added another $650.
With the money raised, the next step in the process was to find a van in the right price range that would fit her needs. Because of her disability Ditell requires specific features in a van, most importantly that it works with her Joey Wheelchair Powerlift. Zachman had been searching Facebook Marketplace, and amazingly the first van she found was nearly perfect, a 2016 Chrysler Town & Country being sold by Minnesota Motors & Sports. The purchase was made.
“I really can’t tell you how much this means to me,” said Ditell. “It’s part of my freedom. Being able to get out and around was starting to get challenging. Now I don’t have to wonder if I’ll have to call a tow truck.”
She also praises Andy Maruska from MN Motors & Sports, whom she worked with to purchase the van.
“I can’t believe how blessed I’ve been throughout this whole thing,” she said. “Living on disability makes it hard to save money for emergencies. Vets are such great hearted people.”
The Hutchinson Veterans Outreach Program started out as a fluke five years ago. Ditell’s now-editor had called her and asked if she would be willing to come on a different program and talk about wildlife rescue, which she was involved with at the time. She agreed, but the program was cancelled due to the lack of a host.
Remembering how no one had informed her about any of the veteran’s benefits she was entitled to after her medical discharge, Ditell agreed to volunteer as the program’s host, but revised it as an outreach for vets, discussing benefits and services available to them and their families. The program airs once a month on local television channels and YouTube.
“This little show gets me out there and helping people,” she said. “So the new van benefits other people along the way as well.”
“It’s amazing what we can do when we work together,” she continued. “Kindness spreads, and it spreads faster than the negative.”