An organization that shuttles disabled veterans to and from medical appointments needs two things: drivers and wheels.
The Disabled American Veterans in Omaha is seeking volunteers to round out a current driving crew that because of age, illness and — this time of year — snowbird tendencies can't pull all the weekday eight-hour shifts.
It also needs new vehicles to replace the four Ford minivans and one Ford Explorer that have too many years and miles on them to be reliable. The aging vehicles are such an issue statewide, where commutes are longer and cross state borders, that the Disabled American Veterans of Nebraska plans a springtime fundraiser in hopes of replacing its fleet.
Getting new vehicles is not a simple process. The cars must be Ford, owing to a longtime partnership between the DAV and Ford Motor Co., which provides discounted vehicles. The Department of Veterans Affairs then owns the vehicles and pays for fuel and maintenance.
Ford no longer makes a minivan, which is the vehicle of choice for Richard Klinger, who oversees the Omaha effort. Minivans, he said, are easier to get in and out of than SUVs.
Ford also offers a 12-passenger van, its Explorer SUV and the Edge, a midsize crossover that can seat five.
“I'm thinking if we could get our hands on two of the Edges, it might help,” said Klinger, a decorated Vietnam War Air Force veteran who serves as the DAV's transportation coordinator. He also is a hospital services coordinator.
The DAV offers a number of services, but one of its most popular is the transportation service launched in 1986 for veterans who are able to walk to and from a van.
There is a growing demand for the service, and Klinger would like to expand shuttle hours. Currently, volunteer shifts run from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. The local DAV can't serve veterans whose appointments run after that.
In Omaha, vehicles are used to shuttle city-dwelling, qualifying vets to and from the VA Medical Center at 41st Street and Woolworth Avenue. The five vehicles together log 15,000 to 20,000 miles a month and all but one of the vehicles has more than 100,000 miles on it.
“We've got one van that's 262,000 miles on it now,” Klinger said.
Out state, DAV shuttle commutes are fewer but longer. A daily shuttle runs veterans from North Platte to Grand Island. A twice-a-week shuttle takes vets from Scottsbluff to Rapid, City, S.D., and to Cheyenne, Wyo. There are also shuttles into Kansas and Iowa.
How to help
To volunteer in Omaha:
Call Rich Klinger, 402-995-3453. Volunteers must pass background and driving tests, as well as complete a physical.
To donate for replacement vehicles:
Checks made out to the Disabled American Veterans and specifying van replacement can be sent to:
DAV, 2533 N. 83rd St., Lincoln, NE 68507
Or call Jim Shuey, 402-570-3418
Contact the writer: 402-444-1136, firstname.lastname@example.org, twitter.com/ErinGraceOWH