BECKLEY, W.Va. — Gov. Jim Justice joined Secretary of the West Virginia Department of Veterans Assistance Dennis Davis on Wednesday to present a fleet of new vehicles for three U.S. Veterans Affairs medical facilities in the state.
The non-profit Disabled American Veterans will operate 13 vans, in which four vehicles will provide services for the Beckley Veterans Affairs Medical Center, four will be used by the Hershel Woody Williams VA Medical Center in Huntington, and five will be utilized by the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center in Clarksburg.
Justice said the availability of the vehicles will make a critical difference in the lives of many veterans who would be at risk of missing an appointment.
“That leads to everything in the world that could be bad, I mean bad stuff, from a sickness that they can’t recover from, from suicide, from all kinds of things,” Justice said. “These vans will be a lifeline for us, in many ways.”
Davis agreed with Justice’s assessment, saying he’s hopeful other areas of the state soon will be able to augment their transportation services.
“These vans are a godsend to so many of our veterans,” he said. “One of the biggest problems veterans have in the lives is a lack of transportation and healthcare, and this enables them to access both of those.”
Beckley VA Medical Center Public Affairs Officer Sara Yoke told MetroNews the need for veterans transportation in southern West Virginia was a primary factor in the request for vehicles, which replace an aging fleet.
“While we’re grateful to have them, it was a definite need to have newer vehicles, more reliable, and it’s really what veterans deserve,” she said. “They deserve something that’s reliable and that can be a comfortable ride.”
Yoke added she also hopes more West Virginians become volunteer drivers in Raleigh County and the surrounding area.
“Our biggest need for drivers, right now, are those located in McDowell, Mercer, Monroe, and Pocahontas Counties,” she said. “There’s actually a heavy population of veterans there who need transportation but they’re also the most rural. We’d love to see more people in those areas step up. ”
In July, the state formally ended a program providing stipends to drivers and resumed a partnership with Disabled American Veterans, which relies on volunteers. Savings from the elimination of stipends was used, in part, to fund the purchase of the new vans unveiled at Wednesday’s ceremony.
Before 2014, West Virginia was a member of the DAV transportation network but was not allowed to continue in the program if drivers were compensated.
Those interested in volunteering can find information about service hours, qualifications, and registration at https://dav.force.com/volunteerforveterans/.