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This Arkansas program gives disabled veterans free rides to VA

The Disabled American Veterans of Arkansas gives veterans free rides to medical appointments. But, in these tough times, the program is need of some help too.

ARKANSAS, USA — If you're lucky, you can use $40 to fill up the tank. After that purchase, it leads to tough decisions for people on fixed incomes, including veterans facing long trips to VA medical facilities for appointments.

Luckily there's a service that's been helping military heroes for decades, but currently there's a need for new heroes to drive them to those appointments.

"In the past, they [veterans] took the van because they really didn't like driving in the traffic in Little Rock. Now more often it's because they can't afford the gas," said Irv Greenberg while driving. 

Greenberg is a driver and coordinator for a free service dedicated to those who have served. The Arkansas Chapters of the Disabled American Veterans has been offering free rides to VA clinics in Little Rock and North Little Rock for 45 years.

It's been a popular perk that's fast becoming a necessity.

"A lot of veterans, and older veterans especially, are on limited sources of limited income, so they're going to be looking for that van," said Harry Komprood, state commander for the DAV of Arkansas.

That need for a ride is where Greenberg and other volunteers come in. 

Greenberg oversees the Hot Springs van that leaves from the Garland County courthouse at 7:30 a.m. each day. Vets are able to call up the night before, or just walk up that morning for a smooth and leisurely trip to the city.

"They're all going over for doctor's appointments, so first thing they're going to do when they get in is have their blood pressure taken," Greenberg said on his approach to driving. "If they've been nervous for the last hour with you scaring them with the driving, their blood pressure is going to be out of sight."

Luckily he knows a thing or two about driving as he was known as Maj. Greenberg after 20 years as an Air Force jet and helicopter pilot. He flew combat missions in Vietnam before shifting to shuttling VIPs in Germany.

But, the DAV isn't just looking for decorated fliers to do these runs. Volunteers can come from all walks of life.

"The bottom line is we need drivers," said Margaret Robinson, coordinator for the daily transportation program. "We need volunteer drivers, because there's no charge and the route is pretty easy and simple."

Robinson's day is part logistics and traffic controller, which fits since she did a lot of that in her time in the Air Force. 

The demand each day fluctuates, but meeting that demand is getting harder as people deal with busy schedules and high prices.

"This is one of the big issues," she said. "It really is hard to find volunteers that are willing to give up a day a week to drive that van, and because there are so many veterans [getting older], I think it's going to get worse."

But if you're like Greenberg, you can find plenty of reward on the open road, and even meet some new friends.

"Sometimes you get some real good conversations going," he said. "We talk about anything but politics and religion. We don't allow discussion of that on the van."

That creates a friendly atmosphere, free of arguments, lowering blood-pressure and a chance to meet new buddies and for the driver, a chance to give a friend a free ride.

"Every day is heartwarming that we have volunteers who come in and devote their time to transport them," said Robinson. "I call them our precious cargo, our American veterans, to their appointments with no charge."

Volunteers need to pass a simple and free physical and have valid vehicle liability insurance. There is an orientation program that includes a background and drivers license check. The DAV provides the van and pays for the gas.

To sign up, you can call 501-257-6991. 

You can also call local numbers to arrange a ride from Batesville, Newport, Heber Springs, Jonesboro, Mountain Home, Russellville, Mena, Hot Springs, Pine Bluff, Hope or El Dorado.

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