Veterans’ hospital ride service in need of local volunteers

NORWICH – Operating with a skeleton crew, the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) transportation van in Norwich often is forced to sit idly by despite an ever-present and often urgent need for its service.

Under normal circumstances, DAV transportation crews run with an average of 12 volunteers, but at present Norwich only has three – albeit very active – full-time volunteers. Subsequently, the Norwich DAV van has only been running on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, while some speciality services are only provided by clinics on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

“Without a free ride to the VA, veterans of modest means or who are too ill to drive themselves might have to skip appointments for the life-saving or life-enhancing care to which they are entitled,” said DAV Transportation Hospital Service Coordinator Andrew Newcomb. “A free, friendly lift can make all the difference for a veteran.”

Since the conclusion of the Gulf War, the demand for DAV transportation has skyrocketed, increasing by as much as 20 to 30 percent each year as a growing number of veterans are returning home and becoming more familiar with the system. During the last fiscal year, DAV vans drove 600,000 miles ferrying veterans to appointments in clinics and hospitals from Massena to Binghamton. If this year’s pace continues as it has been, DAV transportation will break the 700,000-mile mark for the 2013 fiscal year, predict administrators.

The Norwich DAV van transports veterans to clinics in Binghamton and Bainbridge, as well as the Syracuse Veterans Administration Medical Center.

“The Syracuse VA Medical Center just invested $200 million in its facilities, including the spinal cord injury department, so veterans from all over the state will be coming to Syracuse for treatment,” said DAV recruiter William Gleason.

The DAV will also so be adding a new run in Auburn due to necessity. “The veterans there who can’t even get to the clinic right in Auburn for appointments,” he said.

“You don’t have to be a veteran to do it,” said Norwich DAV volunteer Harold Funke. “I think anyone can feel good about helping out veterans who have served and who are now in need of help.”

Many of the veterans who utilize the DAV service are unable to drive themselves or can not afford to. Others though, simply appreciate the companionship gained from riding with other people, especially when facing a potentially life-threatening and terrifying medical situation.

“A lot of the time the van in Norwich is just sitting there all gassed up and it doesn’t cost people anything other than a little bit of their time to help out,” said Gleason.

For more information, or to volunteer, call 205-0794, or (315) 425-4343.

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