The Disabled American Veterans (DAV) Transportation Network is in critical need of volunteer drivers. DAV provides free door-to-door transportation to San Diego County veterans with VA medical appointments but the service is struggling to keep up with requests. DAV donates all the vehicles, so the service is only limited by the number of available drivers. “We are turning away veterans just because we don’t have enough drivers,” said David Strobehn, a DAV Transportation Coordinator.
Anyone interested in becoming a driver is encouraged to call DAV. It usually surprises people when they learn that the drivers are not all veterans. Although the current roster includes retired Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel Jean White, a Chosin Reservoir Battle survivor; along with White, you will find a stay-at-home Mom, a private pilot, a small business owner, an attorney, and a man who is a self-described “butler for two cats.”
Who’s riding shotgun?
When you see a DAV van arrive at the VA, you will often find a WWII veteran beside an Iraq War vet. Bill Clark, an Air Force veteran, will tell you it is a privilege to be a DAV driver. “I had a great day at the DAV. One of my passengers was Marshall (“Big Hands”) Barnes. He was a wide receiver for the Dallas Cowboys when I lived there 25 years ago and a Huey Door-Gunner in Vietnam the same time I was there. As you can probably imagine, he’s a great man and he has some great stories. I had another passenger who was a WWII B-17 pilot who was shot down and captured. What an honor to help him.”
Kim Vincent, a Navy Veteran, drives 250 miles round-trip from El Centro to the La Jolla VA once a week. For Vincent, it is a personal mission. She refers to the men and women she transports as “My Veterans” with a maternal tone. She knows their stories and their families.
Ed Berger, the 2015 San Diego County Veteran of the Year, has been a DAV driver for nine years. He explains, “Many veterans do not have reliable transportation or family members to take them to their medical appointments, and some cannot use public transportation due to physical or financial limitations.”
Making a difference
Keela Dudley relies on the service for her grandfather who is a World War II veteran. “The DAV has been a Godsend for us. He is 90 years old and I can’t tell you how much this has helped. The drivers are great. They pick us up and drop us at the front door.”
Access to care continues to be a top priority and challenge for the Dept. of Veterans Affairs. Although it is a multi-layered concern, transportation was recently identified as one of the top six causes of missed medical appointments. This successful grassroots operation helps thousands of local veterans every year, one veteran at a time. Any ambulatory veteran with a VA appointment can call for a ride. The DAV’s motto is “Fulfilling our promises to the men and women who served.” To be a volunteer driver, you must have a valid driver’s license and pass a VA provided physical and background check.
Anyone who would like to like to volunteer should contact the San Diego DAV Transportation office at 858-552-7470 and for additional information visit: www.davcal.org