Disabled American Veterans Transportation Network Looking For Drivers
Many veterans in the region, like Muriel Leyfert, are dependent on the Disabled American Veterans Transportation Network in St. Louis to make it to their doctor's appointments. The 81-year-old said if she didn’t have access to the DAV, she’d have to rely on friends or Uber, which is a $60 expense for her.
“I’ve been with the DAV for a long time,” Leyfert said. “And if it wasn’t for that I really would be in trouble. There is no way I would be able to drive. I have bad vision, and I’m also 81 years old. So it’s best that I don’t be out on the road.”
The nonprofit has served 5,361 veterans like Leyfert through 11 different routes including St. Louis and St. Louis County, St. Charles and the Metro East.
However, the pandemic has made it harder to attract and keep drivers for the free transportation service.
Joseph Braun, the DAV Hospital Service coordinator-John Cochran Division, said with that kind of demand, the nonprofit needs more drivers. Many of its volunteer drivers are elderly and are concerned about contracting COVID-19. As a result, some of the drivers have opted out.
“We’re not going to beat them down and make them feel like they’re two inches tall, because they’re doing it,” Braun said. “We understand. This is a pandemic. Their health is No. 1. It ain’t doing no good if you’re not healthy in order to transport other veterans if your own personal health is not within good standing.”
Braun said a large majority of the requests for their services are in north St. Louis and St. Louis County. Right now, the route only has two drivers.
“There’s a need for transportation for veterans, but unfortunately the resource to transport those veterans to appointments isn’t there,” he said.
That’s why there's an effort to get younger drivers. Currently, the DAV Transportation Network has 63 volunteer drivers and coordinators. Braun said they’ll need at least 100 to be able to properly meet the needs of all the communities they serve. As it stands, some routes only have drivers available once or twice a week.
And the pandemic is making it harder to attract more drivers.
Willie Riddle, a Marine Corps veteran, is one of the drivers on that north city and county route. He said the DAV has put safety precautions in place to protect drivers and the veterans including PPE, masks, sanitation supplies and a partition between the front and back seats. He said he feels safe.
“I don’t do any face-to-face contact,” Riddle said. “I have plenty of PPE equipment, and I’m very conscious of what I touch and who touches it after they are in and out.”
To help ease that stress on the drivers, coordinators like Braun ask veterans while they’re setting up their appointments and transportation needs if they’re experiencing COVID-19 symptoms. That information is then verified again before the driver picks them up.
“Because the way this pandemic is going, you could be fine one day, the next day you could have it full blown,” Braun said.
Despite the risk, Riddle said the job is worth it. He said he’s happy to help serve fellow veterans.
“Those veterans, they’ve fought for our freedom and they served our nation,” Riddle said. “And now it’s our time to serve them.”
Braun said those interested in volunteering are encouraged to reach out to him directly at 314-289-6443, option 2.
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