Supes provide $5,000 in support of VA transport vehicle

By BUSTER WOLFE,

Approximately 1,600 Pine Belt-area veterans have benefitted during the past five years from a Veterans Administration transport vehicle that carries them to Jackson for physician appointments at the VA Hospital. Drivers for the transports are local volunteers.

But those veterans may be left standing by the side of the road if a new means of transportation isn’t purchased and more volunteers acquired.

George Herrington and Rex Hasty, both committee members with the VA Bus Transportation project, spoke to members of the Forrest County Board of Supervisors Tuesday seeking assistance.

Herrington said Post 3036 has committed to replacing the current van – a 2006 vehicle with more than 213,000 miles. The men explained that they are having trouble finding aftermarket parts.

“We want to keep it safe, but we’re not sure how much longer we can keep the van running,

said Hasty. “This is an effort to get the vehicle replaced before we have to tell the veterans we can’t do this anymore.”

“We are going to get the van,” said Herrington. “Post 3036 made a commitment to get a van. We’re just trying to do what we can to help offset their initial cost. “

VFW Post 3036 has been purchasing the bus outright to serve the community, according to Herrington. “But like all things are unable to meet that obligation at this time, so the veterans of Forrest and Lamar County have formed a committee to help request assistance in replacing that vehicle.”

The bus currently runs to and from Jackson on Mondays and Wednesdays.

“We only run two days a week, because we don’t have more drivers,” Hasty said of the volunteer position. Volunteers must pass a VA physical and background check.

The bus usually leaves Hattiesburg about 7 a.m. and arrives back by 3:30. “It’s not too bad of a day,” Hasty said

“In essence, the driver becomes a nonpaid employee of the VA to be covered by insurances carried on the bus,” Herrington said. The VA also picks up the tab for fuel and maintenance.

Anybody who has a valid drivers license can volunteer. A commercial license is not required. Once drivers pass all the requirements, the VA will also train the driver and allows the driver a stipend for a meal. 

Hasty said some drivers are driving three times a month, which is a lot for a retired person.

Hasty said their van is going to require some major maintenance if they aren’t able to purchase a new vehicle. The committee is looking for a 3/4-ton dual rear axle bus with high top with a capacity of 12 to 14 passengers. They’ve set a budget of between $45,000 and $50,000.

“We would like to be able to purchase something by the end of the year and hopefully pick up some end-of-the-year discounts, maybe saving us all a little bit of money.”

Hasty said some of the veterans they transport are down on their luck and can’t afford to drive to Jackson to get the specialized care they need up there. “Some are riding just about every time the bus goes up,” Hasty said.

While there is a VA Clinic in the Hub City, Hasty said the men can get the specialized care required such as dialysis, cancer/oncology, orthopedics, neurology and other specialized fields.

The men said several veterans in the Pine Belt area would like to be able to go to the VA Hospital in Biloxi, but currently they don’t have the drivers to make that happen.

“If we were to get enough volunteers we would begin driving down to Biloxi. and servicing both VA hospitals,” Hasty said. “We are willing to extend services to more days a week if we can get the volunteers. It’s just difficult to fill all the needs.”

The supervisors voted unanimously to each contribute a $1000 sponsorship from their recreation fund. That paired with other donations from American Legions, VFW Posts, individuals and a $1,500 donation from Lamar County brings their donations to around $12,000.

Herrington has asked to speak to the Hattiesburg City Council.

Board President David Hogan thanked the men “for what you do for us. We appreciate your work.”

Anyone wishing to make a donation or volunteer to drive to and from Jackson, can call VFW Post 3036 at 601-582-9314 or email vfwpost 3036lk@comcast.net