AUGUSTA, Maine — When veterans need a ride to the Togus VA Medical Center in Augusta, the Disabled American Veterans van is there for them, and now the group has added two new pickup routes, DAV state commander George Mathis said Friday.
The group’s Volunteer Transportation Network vans now are picking up veterans who live in and around Searsport and between Moosehead Lake and Newport and taking them to Togus appointments.
The Searsport-to-Togus run is made on Tuesdays and includes the communities of Lincolnville, Camden and Rockland, Mathis said.
“We also have another van and a driver standing by in the Moosehead Lake area,” he said. “He doesn’t have a day yet. The Moosehead Lake van travels through Greenville, Monson, Dover-Foxcroft, Dexter, Corinna and Newport, and a part of Ripley.”
The Moosehead Lake-to-Augusta run will be made at least once a week, maybe twice, and the day will depend on need, Mathis said. Veterans who live in nearby communities not directly on the route can arrange park-and-ride pickup points, he said.
The Volunteer Transportation Network in 2009 picked up and delivered 4,484 Maine veterans to appointments at the Veterans Affairs Medical and Regional Office Center at Togus. Volunteers logged more than 225,580 miles behind the wheel to provide rides.
“Until further notice, we don’t transport to CBOC, which is the community-based outpatient clinics,” Mathis said. “We don’t have enough drivers or vans.”
Volunteer drivers are always needed. Anyone who is 18 or older with a valid driver’s license who can pass a criminal background check and a physical exam can volunteer to be a DAV driver, said Mathis, who, in addition to being state commander, is also a driver.
DAV is a nonprofit group established by veterans to help veterans. The group includes veterans from World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam War, the Persian Gulf War of the 1990s and the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The DAV’s fleet has doubled this year, and now eight vans are located around the state, including up north in Caribou, Down East in Machias, in Bangor, Lewiston, Sanford and Newport in central Maine, among others.
“We’re trying to service as much of the state as we possibly can,” Mathis said. “We got four new vans this year and took a couple off the road.”
The plan is to order two more in 2011, if the group can raise the $30,000 needed to purchase them, he said.
“If any other veterans group or association, or residents, wants to help — all donations are greatly appreciated,” Mathis said. “The more vans we can purchase, the better service we can provide.”
Those who make donations of $1,500 or more get their name printed on the van, he said.
To find out more about the Disabled American Veterans, call the DAV office at 623-5790. To sign up for rides through the Volunteer Transportation Network or to volunteer as a driver, contact the VA Volunteer Service at 621-7301.