Right now, five volunteers in this area drive veterans to medical appointments through the Disabled American Veterans program.
The organization could use at least 10 more.
Chapter 11 of DAV, which serves central Nebraska, is hoping more people will get behind the wheel of DAV minivans, and get behind our veterans.
Is the service important?
“Absolutely — 150 percent,” said Larry Berney of Grand Island, one of the volunteer drivers.
DAV takes pride in getting veterans to medical appointments.
“If they’re a veteran and they need a ride, we give it to them,” said Fritz Lee of St. Paul, the longtime coordinator of the local DAV transportation program.
Not only do the volunteers perform a valuable service, but they also enjoy it, Berney said.
The drivers cover a 100-mile radius. Berney and Bill Hendrickson, another volunteer, make regular trips to Broken Bow, Sargent, Comstock, Greeley, Wolbach, O’Neill, Albion, Fullerton, Ord, Burwell, Superior, Central City, Aurora, Loup City, Benedict and Nelson.
Some of the people they transport are World War II veterans. Others served during the Korean, Vietnam and Gulf wars, as well as peacetime.
Vets regularly tell them how much they appreciate the transportation, said Berney, who was in the Army from 1958 to 1964. Sometimes, the veterans just appreciate the company.
Berney, 81, and Hendrickson, 78, drive five days a week.
But a great part of the program is its flexibility, Lee said. Even if volunteers can work one day a week or one day a month, the DAV would love to have them.
If people need to be out of town for three months, no problem. Volunteers can easily miss a day to golf or attend a loved one’s birthday party.
More drivers “would be greatly appreciated,” said Lee, who was in the Navy from 1971 to 1992.
Drivers don’t need to be veterans. They do need a valid driver’s license and have to pass a simple medical test.
Volunteers aren’t paid, but they do get a free lunch each day they drive. The VA also provides them with free shots to keep them healthy.
In addition to being a driver, Hendrickson is one of four DAV hospital services coordinators in the state. A busy man, he arranges transportation for veterans in Hastings, North Platte, Kearney, Holdrege and many other communities.
Most of the veterans needing medical service come to the Grand Island VA Medical Center or to VA-sanctioned health care providers in Grand Island. Some of the vets are driven to Omaha and Lincoln.
Last year, transportation was provided to 2,744 different veterans in the area administered by Hendrickson. That translates into 52 trips per week.
Volunteers put in 7,717 hours, covering 145,634 miles.
Five DAV vans — Ford Flexes and Ford Explorers — are based in Grand Island.
Vehicles are also stationed in Hastings, Kearney and North Platte.
Those vehicles are purchased by local DAV chapters, and are give to the Department of Veterans Affairs. The VA pays for the upkeep of the vehicles, including fuel and tires.
In addition to Berney and Hendrickson, area volunteer drivers include Bill Foster, Richard Fox and Ralph Kezeor.
The DAV, which is a national program, is based in Cold Springs, Ky. Nebraska is home to 42 DAV chapters.
If you’d like to be a volunteer driver, call 308-382-3660, ext. 242146.