Helping our Heroes: Volunteer drivers needed

Eye on KELOLAND

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — The Disabled American Veterans organization has a significant need right now for volunteer drivers.

Since the pandemic hit – a lot of the older drivers were held back from volunteering to keep them safe. That’s why younger drivers are more essential than ever to keep the program going.

It’s a Thursday afternoon and 86-year-old, Dorothy Ellis is getting her health checked at the VA in Sioux Falls.

“It is very important,” Ellis said.

Ellis is a Navy veteran, who served our country toward the end of the Korean War.

But she probably wouldn’t be here if not for the dozens of volunteer drivers with the DAV Transportation Network.

“Where I live there is no city bus route close,” Ellis said. “If I didn’t have them to get to my appointments, I would probably either skip appointments or have to get a cab or something to bring me.”

Her driver on this day is also a veteran.

Merle Wenge has been volunteering at the VA for almost eight years.

“I found out this is one of the best volunteer jobs there is, helping out vets,” Wenge said.

But because of the pandemic, the DAV lost about half of its drivers, 75 to be exact. Most of them are older and have been staying close to home.

“It’s really been hard, for understandable reasons, to get volunteers who feel comfortable driving the veterans during this time,” Jamie Maxymuik of Voluntary Services VA Hospital said.

That’s why the DAV is looking for younger drivers to volunteer to drive patients, like Ellis, to their appointments.

“We don’t want to put anybody in a situation where we are asking them to drive a couple of hours to different communities and they are not healthy, so the younger population is what we’ve been targeting, but at this point, if you are willing to be a volunteer here at the VA we would gladly welcome you,” Maxymuik said.

Without the DAV Transportation Network, many veterans would not have access to the VA health care they’ve earned.

The program was started in Sioux Falls in 1984 and picked up nationally by DAV in 1987.

Sioux Falls’ DAV has 28 vehicles that serve the Sioux Falls VA Health Care System.

“They call me and let me know they’re on their way to pick me up, so I don’t have to stand outside in the cold,” Ellis said.

Wenge says he gets to know the veterans on a personal basis and a lot of them he considers friends.

“Some of them yeah, some of them we see on a pretty regular basis,” Wenge said.

“They have become my friends yes they have,” Ellis said.

The DAV says the time commitment is whatever you can spare, so if you are younger and have the time, they’d like you to sign up.

“We will take whatever you can give us, if you’re ready to give back to our veterans we will take you,” Maxymuik said.

For those who would like to inquire about becoming a volunteer, click here for more information.

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