By Cecelia Ellis
For The Republic
People are taking time this Memorial Day weekend to honor members of the United States Armed Forces who have served or are serving the country.
Jennings County Veterans Service Officer Mike Eastman said there is something else people can do. Volunteers are needed to transport veterans to medical care.
“We desperately need more volunteers to drive our vets to hospitals and clinics. We have the vans, and we will provide the gas, but we need drivers,” Eastman said.
Nearly 20 percent of Jennings County’s residents — 2,211 — are eligible to receive medical care at regional Veterans Affairs hospitals, Eastman said.
“Many of these guys are World War II vets, and it is hard for them to drive. Many younger men and women vets have injuries or illnesses that make it difficult, or they just plain do not have any other means of transportation,” Eastman said.
“We are very fortunate to have three very good VA hospitals in this area, and we run our vans every day to the hospitals at Indianapolis, Louisville or Cincinnati,” he added.
The Veterans Service Office in North Vernon is located at the Education Training Center. It has four vans for driving veterans to the regional hospitals and satellite clinics in nearby communities, including Bloomington, Lawrenceburg and Scottsburg.
Volunteer drivers are not paid for their service, but the VA provides drivers with a free lunch during most of the trips.
“Volunteers can drive just a couple of times a month or as many times as they wish. We have vans going somewhere every day, Monday through Friday, so there are plenty of opportunities.
Volunteer drivers are not required to be military veterans, but all volunteers must be able to pass a free general physical, which is provided by the VA. Volunteer drivers also must have a current driver’s license.
“In this office, we are very aggressive in our efforts to get our Jennings County vets signed up and eligible for their benefits and to get them to medical care when they need it. But we have a very limited budget, and volunteers really help keep things going,” Eastman said.