Editor’s Note: This article was originally published Sept. 12 and republished Nov. 11.

TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y. — A program that gets veterans in Tompkins County to their medical appointments is in critical need of more drivers.

The Disabled American Veterans transportation program, which operates in Tompkins County and in chapters across the country, picks veterans up at their homes and takes them to their VA-approved medical appointments for free. Because there is a shortage of drivers, the number of trips that can be made is limited.

Volunteer numbers for the program have been declining, Edward Rogers, coordinator for DAV recruitment and retention, said. Rogers got involved as a driver in 2012 and said volunteering is a way to help veterans who served the country.

“Just think if your dad was a vet, or your mom, and they didn’t have you to rely on for transportation and needed to get to their doctor’s appointment, wouldn’t you be glad that this service is available to take them?” Rogers asked.

Like the familiar military motto, Rogers said they like to say, “No veteran left behind.”

Currently, Ithaca has six drivers when at a minimum they should have 10, Rogers said. So far this year, 229 veterans have been transported thanks to the service. But because of the low numbers, in Tompkins County, DAV drivers can only take veterans to appointments three days a week.

The program has struggled for years to get enough drivers, and has particularly had trouble recruiting younger drivers. In 2016, The Ithaca Voice reported that the program had a pool of 15 volunteer drivers, when at the time they were aiming for 40 drivers.

Related: New transportation program launches in Tompkins to help Medicaid recipients

The Disabled American Veterans transportation program was started 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 amount of time people spend volunteering is flexible, Rogers said. Volunteer drivers can take trips once or twice a week or once a month, whatever they have time for.

People interested in volunteering must have a valid license and a clean driving record with no alcohol-related infractions for the past 73 months. They also must undergo a background check, a basic physical and orientation.

Volunteers do not use their personal vehicles. They operate one of the DAV’s available vehicles.

With enough volunteers, Rogers said the program would be able to run five days a week.

For more information about becoming a driver, contact Edward Rogers at 315-425-4343.

Kelsey O'Connor

Kelsey O'Connor is the managing editor for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at koconnor@ithacavoice.com and follow her on Twitter @bykelseyoconnor.