County to buy van for veterans

Vehicle will help get elderly to appointments

Tributes and ceremonies for former military personnel is one thing. But elected officials are expected to honor Columbus area veterans in a practical way today.

The Bartholomew County Commissioners are scheduled to give final approval to the purchase of a 12-passenger van to provide hundreds of veterans round-trip transportation to the Roudebush VA Medical Center in Indianapolis.

Funds already have been placed into the Veterans Services Office budget after the Bartholomew County Council approved the purchase last fall.

Four bidders have provided five options for the commissioners to consider that range from about $23,000 to slightly more than $37,000. After a bid is approved, the county should receive the vehicle within four weeks, said Tom Crawford, Bartholomew County Veterans Services officer.

Purchase of the van would alleviate a problem that has been repeatedly brought up in recent years.

About 200 local veterans — mostly elderly residents from World War II or Korean War eras — have relied annually on a four-passenger Ford Escape jointly owned by the VA hospital and the Disabled American Veterans Association to make medical appointments in Indianapolis.

But Crawford said federal vehicle ownership means adhering to federal requirements for volunteer drivers that include:

  • Multi-day physical and health screenings in Indianapolis.
  • Passing an FBI background and fingerprint check.
  • Providing their own insurance coverage.
  • Completing a volunteer orientation.

When the majority of drivers refused to go through those hassles, the number of trips from Columbus to Indianapolis fell from 20 each month to four, Crawford said.

The last qualified volunteer driver informed the Veterans Office he would not seek a renewal after his certification expires at the end of this month, Crawford said.

But now that Bartholomew County is purchasing its own vehicle, more volunteer drivers are expected to be recruited, Crawford said.

To fill the upcoming gap, a volunteer driver who initially stepped down for medical reasons has agreed to return in February, he said.

In addition, the new van will have the capacity to carry three times as many patients as the current compact crossover vehicle, which is especially important to ailing elderly veterans, Crawford said.

When the Wakeman VA Clinic opened in early 2016 near Edinburgh, it was initially believed the new medical facility at Camp Atterbury would substantially reduce the number of veterans needing transportation to Indianapolis.

But most elderly veterans who rely on the service have established strong relationships with their Roudebush VA physicians in Indianapolis that they want to maintain, Crawford said.

In addition, even those who do go to Camp Atterbury must still to travel to Indianapolis for all specialized treatment and services, Crawford said.

The county will establish its own volunteer driver requirements, commissioner Rick Flohr said.

Recommendations will soon be presented jointly to county commissioners by insurance carrier Richard E. Hawes and Bartholomew County Attorney Grant Tucke, commissioner Larry Kleinhenz said.

Once those requirements are established, recruitment efforts will begin immediately to rebuild the list of volunteer drivers, Crawford said.

Bids, decision timeline

Bids opened Jan. 16 by the Bartholomew County Commissioners on the 12-passanger van to transport veterans to receive medical care in Indianapolis are:

  • Country Chevrolet of North Vernon, $29,099.
  • Fletcher Chrysler Dodge Ram Jeep of Franklin, $31,541
  • Chevrolet of Columbus, $37,105.
  • Bob Poynter Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram Hyundai of Columbus, $31,500.

Country Chevrolet also offered to provide a used 2017 van with 16,000 miles for $22,950.

A decision on the bids expected to be made during the commissioners’ 10 a.m. meeting today at the Bartholomew County Governmental Office building at Third and Franklin streets.

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