Rough road for travel option: Fewer volunteers leaves program’s future uncertain

A state program that provides a free vehicle to transport former military personnel for medical treatments by the Bartholomew County Veteran Services office may be in jeopardy.

Among the reasons is a diminishing number of volunteer drivers willing to make periodic trips from Columbus to the Richard A. Roudebush VA Medical Center in Indianapolis.

While several local residents are willing to drive the aging, ailing and injured veterans round-trip to the Roudebush facility in west-central Indianapolis, most potential volunteers back away after being informed of the hassles, said Larry Garrity, assistant veteran services officer, told Bartholomew County commissioners last week.

County Veteran Services Officer Tom Crawford said driver requirements include:

Traveling to Indianapolis to fill out an application.

Being fingerprinted and subjected to a two-week background check by the FBI.

Enrolling and taking training sessions at the VA Hospital.

Undergoing a written test.

Passing regular physicals and annual tuberculosis tests.

Completing an orientation period.

In exchange for fulfilling all regulations and requirements, driving 88 round-trip miles, and spending most of each volunteer day at the medical center, the only compensation drivers receive is a $6 food voucher at the Roudebush cafeteria, Garrity said.

As a result, Bartholomew County is down to three qualified volunteer drivers, including one who spends six months of every year in Florida, Crawford said.

Those drivers are already stressed from having to make several trips each month, and are exhibiting signs of burnout, Garrity said.

Due to illnesses and vacations, some scheduled trips in July had to be cancelled, forcing the patients to call the medical center and reschedule their appointments, Crawford said.

“I know from experience that if you miss three appointments, they kick you out of the clinic and you can’t come back,” Garrity told the commissioners.

Crawford said he will ask the commissioners and county attorney Grant Tucker that requirements for veterans program drivers be similar to those necessary for employees who drive county-owned vehicles.

Drivers would still need a valid license, insurance and a background check.

“We hope to get enough volunteers that a single person won’t have to drive any more than once or twice a month,” Crawford said. “That would alleviate a lot of tensions.”

Vehicle issues

The Disabled American Veterans organization has been providing the vehicle to transport veterans from Columbus to Indianapolis.

Because of cancellations, however, the 2011 Ford Escape used to transport veterans was driven 731 miles in July, below the minimum 850 miles required by the DAV to keep the vehicle, Crawford said.

“We’re kind of worried they are going to come down and pull it any minute,” Garrity said.

The sports utility vehicle, which has at least 110,000 miles on it, needs mechanical work, but DAV program officials in Indianapolis have said repairs are too expensive and they won’t pay for them, Garrity said.

The Bartholomew County Council has tentatively earmarked $37,000 next year to purchase and maintain a different vehicle to transport veterans, Crawford said.

If the earmarked $37,000 is not cut by the council from its 2018 county budget before the Oct. 11 final adoption, Crawford plans to obtain a large van capable of carrying seven or more veterans, he said.

The ideal vehicle would have dual sideboards and running boards to allow ill and physically challenged veterans easier access into and out of the van, Crawford said.

Demand for rides to the veterans hospital in Indianapolis have dropped since the February 2016 opening of the Wakeman VA Clinic at Camp Atterbury near Edinburgh.

For more information

The Disable American Veterans vehicle transports to the Richard L. Roudebush Veterans Medical Center in Indianapolis Monday through Friday, except for federal holidays.

To check for available seating, qualified veterans should call 812-379-1540 at least 72 hours before their appointment.

People interested in volunteering their services as a driver can call the same phone number for more information.

Author photo
Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.