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Veterans need help meeting transportation demand

A number of years ago, Richard Nolan traded in a golf cart for a van.

His retirement goal had been to tee off as much as possible. But, he said, "I got tired of playing golf, so I decided to volunteer."

Nolan chose to become a driver for the Disabled American Veterans. The Edward B. Froelich DAV Chapter 4, based in Superior, offers transportation from the Superior VA clinic to the VA medical center in Minneapolis for vets who have medical appointments. Driving to and from the center, near Fort Snelling, puts 325 miles on the organization's van and can take up to 12 hours out of a volunteer's day.

So why did Nolan, a DAV member, do it?

"I got a good feeling of helping somebody," he said.

Now transportation coordinator for the DAV, Nolan is searching for a few good men -- and women -- to add to their roster of volunteer drivers. The organization has only 10 drivers right now, he said, and they're being worn out.

The need is there.

"I do know it's a very important program," said Dan Knight, DAV senior vice commander.

Nolan said the van to Minneapolis ran five days a week until January, with eight to nine veterans getting rides daily. And every time it makes the trip, Knight said, it's full.

Many, but not all, are older veterans or those living on a fixed income. But, said Nolan, some are younger vets who served in Iraq or Afghanistan.

The transportation is free and available to all area veterans, not just disabled ones. And with the price of gas on the rise, Nolan expected more veterans will be requesting the service. But the van currently travels just three days a week.

Drivers are also needed for local pick-up and drop-off of veterans who have appointments at the Superior clinic. Transportation on that van, which runs every Wednesday and Thursday, also is free.

Vans are funded through statewide donations, Nolan said. Vehicle upkeep and gas costs are paid through the VA medical center in Minneapolis. Without volunteers, however, the DAV vans are just shiny paperweights.

"We need as many drivers as we can," Nolan said. If enough people step up to help, he said, they can go back to offering transportation five days a week.

Volunteers can be men or women, and they do not have to be veterans. They must pass a physical, which is provided, to be accepted as drivers. New volunteers then go down to Minneapolis a few times with a current driver to learn the route.

For more information on how to volunteer call Nolan at (715) 398-2957. Veterans needing transportation to medical appointments at the Superior or Minneapolis clinics can call the same number.

Maria Lockwood covers public safety. E-mail or call (715) 395-5025.