One of the hardest things Rick Brown has to tell veterans is, “I can’t get a driver.”
As the ride coordinator for the Disabled American Veterans Gainesville chapter, Brown spends most of his week organizing free transportation for retired soldiers to the Atlanta Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Decatur and the Oakwood VA Clinic.
Brown said the number of volunteer drivers has drastically declined, while the amount of veterans needing rides continues to increase.
When Brown first became the ride coordinator 14 months ago, he said the shuttle service had 18 drivers. It now has around nine volunteers, most of which are veterans.
“People have developed age-related health issues, family issues and personal issues,” Brown said. “Gradually, one-by-one, it has diminished.”
Bob Kelly, a Vietnam War veteran, has driven the shuttle for 10 years. He volunteers around twice a month, picking up and dropping off people from Hall County and Cleveland.
Kelly hopes fellow veterans and other community members will step up and volunteer their time.
“I think it’s a way to demonstrate your appreciation to the veterans and for what they’ve done for our country,” he said. “Each time you do it, you feel an affiliation with these guys. You have the opportunity to speak with some World War II and Korean War vets about their experiences.”
As a veteran, Brown said volunteering with the VA shuttles has fostered a sense of brotherhood. He describes his role as “rewarding and invaluable to local veterans.”
Brown said he will never forget his time spent with one Vietnam War veteran, who frequently used the shuttle.
The veteran had stage 4 cancer and would travel to the Decatur VA hospital every week.
“He died shortly after,” Brown said. “He was the most friendly, congenial, upbeat guy you could ever imagine. It was a pleasure to talk with him and just be there with him.”
The shuttle picks up veterans at a couple of key points including the Big Lots in Gainesville, Walmart Supercenter in Oakwood, Northeast Georgia Medical Center’s emergency room entrance and Cheeseburger Bobby’s in Flowery Branch.
If one of the locations doesn’t work for the veteran, Brown caters to their needs.
“I’ll try to pick a vet up where it’s most convenient to them,” Brown said. “This is at absolutely no cost to the veteran.”
Those who are interested in volunteering as a VA shuttle driver can email Brown at email@example.com or call 678-316-8661.
People interested in volunteering as a driver for the Disabled American Veterans’ VA shuttle service can contact Rick Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org or 678-316-8661.