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Level Green veteran with multiple sclerosis enjoys new all-terrain wheelchair

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review - 1/21/2019

Jan. 20--Bill Driscoll never thought he'd be able to hunt again, let alone clear snow from his driveway.

As an active member in the community and Navy veteran who served in Desert Storm, Driscoll, 52, enjoyed coaching wrestling, working at a power plant and spending time outdoors.

But a multiple sclerosis diagnosis -- a chronic disease that damages nerves in the brain and spinal cord -- has lead to the deterioration of his muscles, leaving him wheelchair bound.

"The last time we danced together was on our 25th wedding anniversary," wife Melissa Driscoll said, tearing up. "It's hard to watch him lose mobility. It's a slow, steady decline."

But thanks to a new all-terrain wheelchair, Bill Driscoll is able to get back outside doing what he loves.

The chair, donated to the family by Spartan Alliance, an organization that strives to help injured, sick veterans and their families, features all-terrain wheels that can go over 3 inch logs, along paths and in sand.

So far, Bill Driscoll has outfitted it with a gun holster so he can go hunting and a plow so he can get to work clearing the driveway of his Level Green home on snow days.

"I didn't believe it at first," Bill Driscoll said, remembering Dec. 27, the day his wife told him he was getting the chair. "It was an awesome Christmas present. I just can't wait to get out and use it."

The diagnosis

Joining the Navy in December 1985, Driscoll worked as a boiler technician on several ships, including the USS Pensacola LSD-38. Driscoll was eventually sent to Desert Storm, also known as the first Gulf War, where he helped transport Marines into the war zone.

Leaving the military in 1991, Bill Driscoll got a job at Pine Creek Power Plant in Clarion where he worked for 20 years.

During his time at the power plant, Bill Driscoll started to feel a decline in his health, he said.

In 2004, Driscoll received his official diagnosis -- a conclusion he attributes to various shots he received while in the Navy.

When he went back for his shot records, there was nothing to be found, he said, forcing him to find other ways to prove his case to receive benefits.

After applying for benefits at the local level and getting denied, the Driscolls moved their fight to Washington, D.C.

"I want them to see me," Bill Driscoll said at the time. "I want them to see the man I've become."

Eventually, they won the case. Bill Driscoll receives full benefits from the Veterans Affairs office.

But the road there wasn't easy.

"I was in a bad place when I stopped working," Bill Driscoll said, saying he went into a deep depression after his diagnosis.

Spending time with his friends and family who took him on trips to keep his mind off of his diagnosis helped him to work his way out of his depression.

"There's a lot [of veterans] that give up," getting divorced or becoming homeless, Bill Driscoll said. "I'm lucky to have a good support system."

And through it all, Bill Driscoll has never discouraged anyone from joining the military, Melissa Driscoll said.

Today

While life will never go back to normal for the Driscolls, they've made "the best of a crappy situation," Melissa Driscoll said. "It could always be worse."

Now, the family is preparing for a vacation to the Outer Banks, North Carolina, where Bill Driscoll will be able to navigate the sand, dunes and shallow water.

Melissa Driscoll is already planning ways he can get onto a fishing boat.

While the fight for benefits is over for the Driscolls, Melissa Driscoll now acts as an advocate for veterans in similar situations. By joining various Facebook groups, Melissa Driscoll reaches out to people who need help navigating the system.

"The military is real big on verbage," she said. "You can't give up. You have to fight for the benefit."

To qualify for a Spartan Alliance all-terrain wheelchair, veterans can apply online at spartanweekend.org .

Locally, LEEK Hunting and Mountain Preserve organizes hunts for disabled veterans, offering access to all-terrain chairs for the event. A schedule of planned hunts can be found on leekpreserve.org .

Team RWB , a Pittsburgh based non-profit, organizes events to get veterans out into the community by participating in exercise, social and community service events.

Ligonier-based nonprofit Canyon Heroes provides whitewater rafting trips through the Grand Canyon to military veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. More information is available at canyonheroes.org.

"We have been blessed a thousand times over," Melissa Driscoll said.

Megan Tomasic is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan at 724-850-1203, mtomasic@tribweb.com or via Twitter @MeganTomasic..

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