BANGOR, Maine — When veterans need a ride to the Veterans Affairs hospital at Togus, the Disabled American Veterans van is there for them, no matter where they live.
The DAV has plenty of vans, but not enough drivers, which means some veterans are left stranded without a ride, DAV state commander George Mathis of Newport said Wednesday.
With only 25 drivers “we can’t get to them all,” he said. In the last year, “there were at least 1,000 who weren’t transported because we need drivers.”
DAV members are canvassing the state looking for new volunteers for the group’s Volunteer Transportation Network. 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.
In 2009, 4,484 Maine veterans were given rides to the Veterans Affairs Medical and Regional Office Center at Togus. Volunteers logged more than 225,580 miles behind the wheel to provide rides.
The vans are located all over the state, including up north in Caribou, Down East in Machias, and in Newport in central Maine, among others.
Many of the drivers are “veterans helping veterans,” Mathis said, adding he would like to see more young people volunteer.
Young people who give their time can apply for a Jesse Brown Memorial Youth Scholarship, a DAV program created in 2000 in memory of the late secretary of veterans affairs, Jesse Brown.
The $15,000 and $7,500 scholarships are designated for those age 21 or younger who have provided 100 hours of volunteer service to the DAV. Since 2000, the DAV has awarded 87 scholarships valued at $578,000.
“It’s a free service and it’s important for veterans,” Mathis said.
To volunteer or find out more about the program, call the DAV office at 623-5790 or the VA Volunteer Service at 621-7301.