It will be a smooth ride for hundreds of veterans in the Pine Belt to get the medical care they need, even if those doctors are miles away.
VFW Post 3036 in Hattiesburg recently purchased a 15-passenger van to transport veterans to the G.V. Sonny Montgomery VA Medical Center in Jackson. That means the post finally got to retire a decade-old van with more then 216,000 miles on the odometer.
"I think I was probably one of the last persons to drive it," said Jack Vandevender, a veteran and volunteer driver. "The service that it rendered was excellent, but it was time to be replaced."
Vandevender and other volunteers drive about a dozen veterans from Hattiesburg and surrounding areas to Jackson every Monday and Wednesday. Some of those veterans would not have a way to get to the appointments on their own.
"If we have six or 10 people riding, on an average, going up on every trip, at least one or two of those guys has their bicycle, and they chain it up to one of the of fences out here," said Vandevender. "So, that lets you know. If they are on a bicycle, they definitely need assistance."
VFW Post 3036 worked with dozens of sponsors in the area to raise the $50,000 for the new van. The VA pays for gas, maintenance and insurance from here.
"Not all veterans are travel eligible, so they would have to find a way to get to Jackson, so they might not make it," said VA Medical Center Director David Walker. "We need the community support. We need to be able to provide access to patients. This is how we do it, so we are grateful."
Walker is grateful the community can provide patients with the care they need after serving our country.
"The larger the group that's here, the better it makes me feel, because we know those are the folks that really need some assistance," Vandevender said.
If you know a veteran who needs to sign up for medical benefits, Walker said he or she can do that at vets.gov.
If you know a local veteran who needs a ride for an appointment, here are the details for the service from VFW Post 3036.