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Volunteers drive veterans transport service

Donny Karr

dkarr@civitasmedia.com

U.S. Army veterans, from left, James Walker, James Scott, David Todd and Allen Smith stand in front of the DAV’s van used to transport veterans to medical appointments in Atlanta and Tuskegee, Alabama. Smith, one of the van’s drivers, said that the service is in need of a new van to help veterans get to appointments at VA hospitals outside Troup County and get the medical help they need.
http://lagrangenews.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/web1_DAV.jpgU.S. Army veterans, from left, James Walker, James Scott, David Todd and Allen Smith stand in front of the DAV’s van used to transport veterans to medical appointments in Atlanta and Tuskegee, Alabama. Smith, one of the van’s drivers, said that the service is in need of a new van to help veterans get to appointments at VA hospitals outside Troup County and get the medical help they need. Donny Karr | Daily News

LaGRANGE — If not for drivers like Wayne Anderson and Allen Smith, many local veterans would not receive the medical attention they need from veterans medical facilities in Georgia and Alabama. Both men are part of a group of drivers who volunteer their time for the Disabled American Veterans Chapter 31 transport service.

“To me, its just the right thing to do,” said Anderson, who served in the Navy. “These are guys who served our country and made great sacrifices for us. Without this service, a lot of them wouldn’t be able to get to their appointments.”

The DAV service transports veterans from any branch of the military to veterans medical facilities in Tuskegee, Alabama, and Atlanta, Georgia. The service is also free of charge to the veterans and relies on efforts of volunteers to operate. Dave Lyons, a retired U.S. Army veteran, has been overseeing the service for more than a decade.

“Our volunteers are what drives this program,” said Lyons. “We have 17 drivers helping us right now, but we really need more volunteer drivers.”

Lyons began driving for the service in 2002, and took over as coordinator for the entire program in 2005. He is now retiring from the service for health related reasons. Jake Christman will be taking his place as coordinator.

“We are very fortunate to have received a generous donation from someone in the community that will help us purchase a new van,” said Lyons. “But we are really in need of more drivers.”

Lyons said that the service currently has 10 drivers to take veterans to Atlanta, but at least two more are needed. He also said that at least 25 total drivers are needed for the program to operate. Drivers typically volunteer their time one or two days per month.

“Most of our drivers are veterans and people always assume that veterans will be taken care of,” said Anderson. “They always think that somebody will run the transport service, but those ‘somebodies’ are running out.”

Anderson said that, since Lyons took over the service, it has became one of the most organized veterans transport services anywhere around. Troup County has more than 5,000 veterans, with about 12,000 veterans living in surrounding counties served by the local DAV chapter.

“It’s my way of giving back to these guys,” said Smith, who has volunteered as a driver for the past decade. “This is a great service because it’s hard for these guys to get up there.”

Lyons said that many of the veterans who ride on the transport van are often former service members who do not have the financial means to get to doctors appointments in Atlanta or Tuskegee. He has operated the service like a business, requiring that drivers who do apply to volunteer pass a background check and physical.

The DAV is seeking applications from anyone who is interested in becoming a volunteer driver. To apply for a volunteer driver position, contact Jake Christman at 706-412-4377.

Donny Karr is a reporter at LaGrange Daily News. He may be reached at 706-884-7311, ext. 2154.