Minnesotan disabled veterans who cannot drive are facing a shortage of volunteer drivers. The drivers, through the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) program, provide free rides to medical appointments
In 2021 18,981 veterans in Minnesota took advantage of the program. But a severe shortage of volunteers is causing problems/
“When the [Veterans Affairs] shut down all of their in person [appointments during the pandemic] we lost some volunteer drivers from that same time,” Department Adjutant Stephen Whitehead for DAV Minnesota, said.
According to DAV Minnesota, during that time they lost 30% of their volunteer drivers.
“Now [we’re] trying to ramp up our volunteers again to meet the demand because the VA is opening the doors up to doing a lot more in person appointments,” Whitehead said.
As of early September, DAV Minnesota has 145 volunteer drivers – that’s 150 fewer than their goal of 295 drivers.
The issue is statewide, and is especially acute in Greater Minnesota Southeast Minnesota only has 10 drivers, with other regions having just 20 to 25 drivers. The metro area has about 70 drivers.
“If you only have an hour, a couple hours a month, we can make that work,” Whitehead said.
On top of helping the DAV’s program and getting veterans to the care they need and deserve — some lifesaving as this is the only way they can get there — Whitehead said you also make connections, create conversations, and build relationships.
“[Sometimes a] veteran just starts talking about his or her service and you hear about what this ride really means to them and how it’s helping them improve their life actually to be able to get to the appointment,” Whitehead said. “It gives you chills and think about the impact that you’re having on the veteran.”
One metro volunteer driver who stepped away during the pandemic, but is now back on the road is Army veteran Gary Beatty. He enjoys meeting other veterans.
“You get to see some of the guys that really, really gave it their all. And, to be able to help them [is] a pleasure,” Beatty said.
A connection he made in early September was with George Griller. The Air Force veteran is blind and uses the DAV transportation program about every week.