Lifesaving program helping MN veterans needs your help

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If you have the time, Minnesota veterans need your help.

Thanks to volunteer drivers, veterans get free rides to their medical appointments through the Disabled American Veterans’ (DAV) transportation program.

Last year alone, 18,981 veterans in Minnesota took advantage of the program. Right now, DAV Minnesota is down drivers.

“When the [Veterans Affairs] shut down all of their in person [appointments during the pandemic] we lost some volunteer drivers from that same time,” Department Adjutant Stephen Whitehead for DAV Minnesota, said.

According to DAV Minnesota, during that time they lost 30% of their volunteer drivers.

“Now [we’re] trying to ramp up our volunteers again to meet the demand because the VA is opening the doors up to doing a lot more in person appointments,” Whitehead added.

As of early September, DAV Minnesota has 145 volunteer drivers – that’s 150 fewer than their goal of 295 drivers.

A regional breakdown shows this is a statewide issue.

Current DriversGoal
Central Minnesota2575
Northwest Minnesota2040
Northeast Minnesota2040
Southeast Minnesota1030

“If you only have an hour, a couple hours a month, we can make that work,” Whitehead said.

On top of helping the DAV’s program and getting veterans to the care they need and deserve — some lifesaving as this is the only way they can get there — Whitehead said you also make connections, create conversations, and build relationships.

“[Sometimes a] veteran just starts talking about his or her service and you hear about what this ride really means to them and how it’s helping them improve their life actually to be able to get to the appointment,” Whitehead said, adding: “It gives you chills and think about the impact that you’re having on the veteran.”

One metro volunteer driver who stepped away during the pandemic, but is now back on the road is Army veteran Gary Beatty — he says his favorite part is meeting other veterans.

“You get to see some of the guys that really, really gave it their all. And, to be able to help them [is] a pleasure,” Beatty said.

“It’s very satisfying, makes me glad that I did serve — reinforces that,” Beatty added.

A connection he made in early September was with George Griller. The Air Force veteran is blind and uses the DAV transportation program about every week.

“Most of the people have told me how rewarding it is for them to donate that time,” Griller told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS.

An important piece to this program is that you don’t have to be a veteran to volunteer — as long as you can meet a few requirements you can drive.

Start the process to be a volunteer driver here.