There is a van parked at the Bradford Post Office, not far from the American flag.
The markings on the van, green, white and gray, have a lot of meaning if one takes the time to look. There are silhouettes of troops on the side, symbolizing the purpose behind the Disabled American Veterans vehicle – to transport veterans of the Armed Forces to appointments at Veterans Administration facilities in Erie, Warren, Pittsburgh or wherever necessary.
Judy LeRoy heads up a fleet of volunteer drivers for the DAV van, a fleet that is in need of a few more men and women.
“In April, four of us were down” with health issues, said LeRoy, who is not just the coordinator, but is also a driver — the only woman driver in the fleet at the moment. “One driver stepped up and drove over 1,000 miles that month.”
That certainly isn’t the norm, she explained. It’s totally voluntary, and a person can take as few or as many trips as they desire.
“If they volunteer for a certain time and something comes up for them, we can change it. If they can’t do a run, we call around and find someone else who can.”
How the system works is a veteran contacts either them at 814-460-2327 or Zach Pearson at the McKean County Department of Veterans Services in Smethport, and goes through a process for signing up for a ride to an appointment.
LeRoy keeps a spreadsheet with dates, times, veterans, appointments, drivers — “Thank God for Excel,” she said with a laugh. “I plug them into the system and get in touch with a driver, usually by text or by phone. There’s no push — it’s a volunteer thing, and people can say yes or no.”
Two days before the appointment, the driver will contact the veteran to work out details of picking them up and so forth. There is no cost to the volunteer; gas and vehicle maintenance is covered by the Veterans Administration. And on longer trips, like Erie or Pittsburgh, the driver will receive a food voucher for use at the VA facility on the trip.
There is a process the volunteers go through, which involves a criminal record check, a physical exam and a check of the volunteer’s driving record. “It usually takes a couple of months,” LeRoy said, but added the cost is borne by the VA, and not by the volunteer.
LeRoy is now coordinating the Smethport fleet as well, where there are three drivers. She’s hoping for more volunteers for both fleets.
“The drivers, it’s good for them to have a listening ear. They need to have a compassionate heart,” she said. “These vets, they don’t want to talk about war stories. They love to talk about cars, fishing, hunting — it’s always an education, for us and for them.”
And as for the veterans, LeRoy said, eyes brimming with emotion, “They are so appreciative. It gets to me, because if people only understood how so many of them live alone. When we go to Erie, it’s two hours of companionship. They love it.”
She asked anyone who is willing to volunteer as a driver to reach out and get the process started. The number for further information is 814-460-2327.