WEST HAVEN - Mayor John M. Picard is all smiles with World War II Army Air Corps veteran Berton Francoeur, a wheelchair-bound volunteer and resident of the Veterans Affairs medical center on Campbell Avenue, at the unveiling of the VA’s new wheelchair-equipped van for amputee veterans Dec. 16.

Francoeur, 88, and members of the Veterans Amputee Support Group initiated the fundraising drive last year to buy the $92,600 van, which is equipped to safely transport 10 wheelchairs at a time.

In all, the group raised $106,000 for the purchase of the van, which has been donated to the VA hospital for use by amputee and disabled veterans who need transportation to and from social activities. The amputee vets donated the rest of the money to the VA for the van’s operation.

The lion’s share of the donations came from the Knights of Columbus, whose name drapes each side of the van, as well as individuals and Bayer HealthCare, which gave $5,000.

Despite vacating the city a year ago, Bayer continues to support local charitable programs, giving $85,000 the past year.

Francoeur, who was grand marshal of the city’s 2000 Memorial Day parade, has long been the representative of the Connecticut Disabled American Veterans to the Veterans Administration Volunteer Service at the VA medical center, where he oversees dozens of volunteers who run various programs and services for veterans.