With drivers of the Veteran Van Program serving veterans living in Colfax and Platte counties, administrators of the Platte & Colfax County Veterans' Service Office are acknowledging the need for another vehicle.
Jerry Chlopek, commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3704, said the issue of having only one vehicle rises when drivers have to travel to different locations on the same day to ensure each veteran makes it to his or her appointment.
The majority of the drivers at the program which shuttles veterans to and from various appointments are members of the VFW. Drivers currently make about 20 monthly trips to VA medical facilities in Norfolk, Grand Island, Omaha and Lincoln. Since its establishment in 2013, the service has operated with one vehicle donated by the VFW Post 3704.
Chlopek, who is also one of the program drivers, said he hopes the new vehicle will be handicap accessible to provide adequate amenities for those less mobile.
“I noticed there were a lot of elderly veterans not taking advantage of their (Veteran Affairs) health care benefits because it required them to travel to the VA facilities,” said Eric Mullally, Platte and Colfax County Veterans Service officer. “Now, we are looking at possibly getting another vehicle to help with the need that we have, because there are four facilities that we travel to: The Norfolk VA Clinic, Grand Island VA (Medical Center), Lincoln VA Clinic and the Omaha VA hospital.”
Mullally said it can be tough for veterans, especially those living in rural areas, to commute to Nebraska VA medical centers to receive treatment.
“The VA health care system … is more or less if you’re willing to go to the VA facilities and receive the care, they can usually receive it a little or no cost,” he said. “It doesn’t cost them very much so it’s very beneficial for them, whereas, if they do locally, they might incur thousands of dollars in medical debt.”
Since the majority of veterans benefiting from the service are senior citizens, Chlopek said they don’t always feel comfortable driving outside of their communities.
“They wanted to go to the VA (facilities) but they had nowhere of getting there,” he said.
When Mullally identified the issue, he reached out to various local veteran organizations, including the VFW.
The program is funded by Platte and Colfax counties. He said 75 percent of the program's operating costs are funded through a Platte County tax and the remainder comes from Colfax County.
Program drivers have already made initiatives to fund the second vehicle by donating stipends they receive.
Moving forward, Mullally said he hopes to see the continuous growth of the program to ensure the veterans are well-taken care of and have their needs fully met.
“…so that we can accommodate the need to take veterans to different facilities on the same day,” he said.
Those wanting to donate to the program for its second vehicle can do so at Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3704, 2720 23rd St. in Columbus. Any honorably discharged veteran who is a resident of Platte or Colfax counties is eligible. Veterans must be traveling for care/treatment at Nebraska VA Hospitals and clinics. Veterans must be able to get in and out of the van without assistance. Spouses may accompany the veteran to his or her VA appointment, according to the Colfax and Platte counties' websites.
Community members are encouraged to visit http://www.plattecounty.net/webpages/veterans_services/transportation_program.html to learn more about the program.
Natasya Ong is a reporter for the Schuyler Sun. Reach her via email at email@example.com.