April 04--Like many veterans, 65-year-old Francine Fisher depends on the Disabled American Veterans Transportation Network to get to and from doctors' appointments.
"This organization is one of the most important things in my life at this moment because they take care of so many of the things that I need," said Fisher, an Army veteran. "Currently, I don't own a vehicle, and all of my medical appointments are so many miles away. I can't afford medical insurance, so I am really dependent on everything the DAV provides for me."
The DAV's Guilford County Chapter 20, under Commander Wanda Autry, is in dire need of volunteer drivers. Chapter 20 picks up veterans from their homes, and the service is free.
Fisher, who was on active duty from 1977 to 1983 and in the Army Reserve from 1983 from 1987, has a litany of health issues. She suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, military sexual trauma, bipolar disorder and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. She also has problems with her right knee and three discs in her back that are disintegrating.
"I don't know what I would do without this system," she said. "It's important to the life of many veterans, and many of us would be totally out of luck without it."
The group's three vans, which hold six people, travel to Veterans Affairs medical facilities in Durham, Salisbury and Winston-Salem.
But it takes more than vans to make the program work.
"There are just not enough drivers and volunteers" said Betsy Carty, the coordinator of Chapter 20.
Carty makes the schedules for the drivers.
She also is the one who has to tell some veterans no.
"I'm the one who has to call to turn down rides for veterans because we don't have enough volunteers," she said. "Last month, 70 people did not have a ride, and my notes have gone back as far as October showing 200 rides canceled."
Many veterans have two to four appointments in one day, Carty said.
"Some appointments are not as serious, and some are more life-threatening," she said.
"Some veterans can get a ride, but most have to pay an astronomical price to get to their appointments," Carty said. "We give access to the van in a first-come, first-serve bases. If the van is full, that's it; we don't choose favorites."
Fisher has used this service for five years and has been turned down several times before because they didn't have enough drivers.
"I have been turned down when I have had appointments that were very important to my health and well-being. Most of the time, I could reschedule, but there has been at least two occasions where my daughter has had to get off of work just to take me." Fisher said. "These drivers provide a truly valuable service for disabled veterans and their families."
Pete Arata is one of the three drivers for Chapter 20. Arata is a Navy Vietnam veteran who has been a volunteer driver for almost five years and enjoys what he does for the veterans.
"For me, I know what they have gone through and their struggles," he said. "I don't feel like I am extending myself. It's a pleasure to be in their company, and it's actually quite addicting to build relationships with them and share war stories of our past experiences."
Arata drives four days a week, keeps up all maintenance and detailing of vans, and does all the paperwork of mileage and who rode.
"These veterans, who have been involved in doing something for our country, need our help, and I feel I owe it to them to help those who have been seriously injured or can't afford transportation or are too sick to go themselves." Arata said.
Other drivers are Pinkey Jordan, who is in his 17th year of service, and Charlie Lavender, who has been a volunteer for a year.
Chapter 20 owns three vans but can't use them all because it does not have enough drivers in the day.
"We are not begging," Carty said. "We just want to help the veterans, and more drivers will make it happen."
Drivers do not have to be veterans, but they must have a driver's license and must pass a physical and background check.
Fisher couldn't ask for more dedication out of the DAV volunteer drivers.
"The drivers are very nice and assist me in and out of the van because of my knee," Fisher said.
"I smile and appreciate them so much for all they do."
Chapter 20 works diligently to keep pace with the growing demand for transporting veterans.
"I want to be able to use the slogan, 'No Veteran without a Ride,'? " Carty said.
Through the DAV, veterans and civilians can express their appreciation for those who have risked so much for our country.
Priscilla Sizemore is a communication studies student at UNCG.
(c)2014 the News & Record (Greensboro, N.C.)
Visit the News & Record (Greensboro, N.C.) at www.news-record.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services