ITHACA, N.Y. — A local program that transports hundreds of disabled veterans to their medical appointments is in need of more drivers.

The Disabled American Veterans transportation program began in 1986 after Congress eliminated funding for the Veterans Beneficiary Travel Program, which made it so the federal government would not reimburse veterans the cost of transportation to VA medical facilities.

The program has networks across the country, and transports more than 500,000 veterans to and from appointments at no cost. In Tompkins County, about 200 veterans use the service, according to Paul Moore, coordinator for the county.

The local DAV program can no longer operate daily because of a shortage of drivers. The county currently has a pool of about 15 volunteer drivers, when ideally the program could use 40 drivers, Moore said.

Drivers say they enjoy being a part of the program because it’s a chance to give back the men and women who have served this country. They also say they love the stories they hear on the way to VA medical centers in Syracuse or Freeville, where medical appointments generally are. However, if the Department of Veteran Affairs makes an appointment for a local doctor, veterans can also be transported there through the program.

Moore, who is also a disabled veteran, said one of this first drives still sticks with him. He transported 95-year-old World War II veteran Joe Daino who was in the Army Air Corps and flew in the South Pacific. Moore said he was amazed by Daino’s razor-sharp memory, and inspired by his wisdom.

“Investing my time to honor their service is a privilege,” Moore said.

To volunteer, drivers must have a valid license and a clean driving record with no alcohol-related driving infractions. Drivers typically drive two to three days per month. After the application process, there is a required physical, security check and basic training with the two vans. Training is minimal because veterans in the program are ambulatory.

The program could also use two to three non-driver volunteers who could schedule veterans’ appointments and assist with data management,  Moore said.

Volunteer Charlie Tilton, who is also a veteran, said what drives him to participate is the bond he developed in the military.

“They depend on you, you depend on them,” Tilton said. “Quite honestly, there’s nothing I wouldn’t do to protect or help a fellow soldier or sailor or whoever.”

While several drivers in the program are veterans, it’s not a requirement. Another driver, Dave MacDonald, said he did not serve in the military but likes to transport veterans as a way of giving back.

“I’m indebted to them,” MacDonald said.

For more information about becoming a driver, or assistance getting to appointments, contact Paul Moore at 607-227-4975.

Featured photo provided.