1028VETaudNorman Coursey talks about needing more van drivers for veterans.
Two drivers passed away. A third one has been sidelined — maybe permanently — by hip replacement.
And now the Gainesville chapter of Disabled American Veterans finds itself needing van drivers to take veterans to the Atlanta Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Decatur for needed treatments.
"We used to (run the van) five days a week. But right now, three is the most we can manage, and some weeks I’m two of those three," said the organization’s van coordinator, Norman "Mr. C" Coursey.
The demand for service hasn’t changed, however, and may have grown, he added.
"With the economy getting worse, (ridership) is
picking up," said Coursey, who took a full load, nine veterans, to the hospital Monday.
Veterans don’t have to be disabled to go to the center, which treats a wide range of illnesses and diseases, and van drivers don’t have to be veterans, he said.
Drivers need to have a clean driving record and pass a physical at the VA hospital to qualify, said Wendy Paradis, senior vice commander of the Disabled American Veterans chapter.
"We will take males or females. We love you all," she said in an e-mail announcing the need.
The free service began in 1992, with the organization accepting donations to maintain the van and replace it as needed.
The chapter picks up and drops off veterans at the Big Lots store in Gainesville, Wal-Mart Supercenter in Oakwood, Exxon station off Interstate 985 and Exit 12 in Flowery Branch, and the QuikTrip station at Exit 4 in Buford, Coursey said.
It’s easy to spot the colorful van, which has the Statue of Liberty and U.S. flag painted on its side.
Coursey said the organization takes 900 to 1,000 people per year to the hospital.
"We have one fellow who is 96 years old. We have a lot (of veterans) in their 80s and World War II veterans," he said.
Bob Condon, who has been a driver since the program began, had a simple reason for wanting to lend a hand.
"I’m retired, and it was just something I thought I could do to help," said the Oakwood resident. "I’ve been very fortunate in my life, and I just felt that it was time for me to give back."
Condon, who served in the military between the Korean and Vietnam wars, still hits the road once a week about every other week, down from once a week when he first started.
"I get as much out of it, I think, and maybe even more than the people I’m taking down there," he said. "They’re all so grateful and it makes me feel good to do something to help other people."