BROOKINGS – Imagine a veteran finally lining up an appointment but then they can’t keep it because there’s no one to drive them.
“They may have to cancel their appointment or reschedule,” said Eileen Aberle, deputy director of the Brookings County Veterans Affairs and Welfare Office.
“I hate to tell the veterans that I don’t have a driver and we’ve had to do that twice, so I just feel bad because a lot of times with the VA, your appointments, it’s not that easy to get those,” Aberle said.
The Disabled American Veterans has volunteers to drive the veterans, but right now, there’s not enough of them, Aberle said.
“We’re looking to the community to have some people step up and help out,” she said.
Help wanted: Drivers
“We’re so short; we really are,” Aberle said.
She is looking for three to four more drivers to add to the ones she already has, so she has a better chance of finding someone to drive on any given day.
“We go down the list … because they have lives, too,” she said.
To become a driver for the Disabled American Veterans, people can apply by calling the VSO at 605-696-8260. The Brookings County Veterans Office is located in the Brookings City & County Government Center, Suite 210.
The process starts with filling out an application, providing a valid driver’s license and proof that you carry insurance on your personal vehicle. Applicants will also have to take a driving test.
The DAV does provide a van to transport veterans, so drivers will not be using their personal vehicles.
All DAV van drivers are volunteers and do not receive payment for their services, Aberle added.
The application process takes between six weeks to two months, Aberle figures, due to the DAV requirements. After the application is submitted, the applicant will have to go to the VA for a physical and do a fitness test to determine if they are capable of assisting the veterans, some of whom have mobility issues due to using wheelchairs or just not being steady on their feet.
“You do not have to be a veteran to drive,” Aberle said, although quite a few of her drivers are veterans.
“Women can drive. I have a gal that drives … she’s been driving for quite a while,” Aberle said.
Volunteers drive veterans to the Sioux Falls facility in the DAV van. Aberle said there could be as many as three veterans being driven at a time. The local office works with a coordinator at the VA to schedule trips. Trips can be scheduled any weekday, but usually start early in the morning.
“Sometimes they leave here at 6:30, 7:30 a.m., especially if they have to do labs,” Aberle said. Depending on how long the appointments take, most times they are back by noon.
HyVee has turned into the place where they gather to be picked up, Aberle said.
“They can have a cup of coffee or whatever while they’re waiting there. It’s kind of a nice place for them,” she said.
For those with no one to drive them to HyVee, the DAV drivers can pick them up.
Veterans can be all ages, from 20s to 90s, Aberle said. Some may use wheelchairs or other apparatus to get around, others do not.
“That’s why one of the requirements is that physical fitness because you’re helping veterans get in and out of vehicles and then into the facility, as well,” Aberle said.
Some are going to the doctor for combat wounds or to fit prosthetic limbs, others are going for treatment of cancer, diabetes or other medical issues. Some veterans are going to events, like visiting a memorial wall or attending a bike ride.
“Some of the veterans may have one or more appointments,” Aberle said.
Lab work may require a wait between the lab draws for results, then seeing a doctor. Some go for physical therapy.
“There’s a lot of different things down there; a large facility,” Aberle said, adding they try to let the drivers know about how long the trip will be.
Quick trips run two and a half hours, some trips could run four or five hours, she noted. They try to not schedule veterans with short appointments on trips with veterans who are expected to take a long time.
Those getting procedures with anesthesia are required to bring their own caretaker, she said.
“Our drivers – that’s not their responsibility to do that,” Aberle said.
Some of the veterans still drive themselves but prefer to use a driver for their appointments so they don’t have to worry about driving and parking, and they will also have help getting in and out of the vehicle, Aberle said. Some of the older veterans just enjoy having the company.
And if the drivers want to help out around the VA while the veterans they drove there are at their appointments, that’s OK, Aberle said, in fact, quite a few do.
Other ways to help
For those who can’t volunteer as drivers but still want to help, Aberle said there are opportunities.
You can volunteer to pick up groceries or just go visit with veterans to check on them. You could even volunteer to go along on a trip as a caretaker. For more information, contact Aberle to see how you can help.
“We do have quite a few veterans that rely on us,” Aberle said.
Contact Jodelle Greiner at [email protected]