Lending a hand: Volunteers drive veterans to VA healthcare appointments | TheUnion.com

Lending a hand: Volunteers drive veterans to VA healthcare appointments

Dave Brooksher
Staff Writer

Nevada County's veterans, most of whom served in Vietnam or Korea, have a long way to go for a doctor's appointment. Driving to Reno, or Sacramento is challenging — especially for older veterans.

But at least they're not alone. Every week, the county sends a van to Reno, driven by volunteers.

And the volunteers get something out of it, too.

"You get to listen to some real good stories and some pretty old cranky guys," said Bill Boling, a volunteer driver. "It's really neat talking to them."

Boling is a veteran of the U.S. Army. He served from Feb. 1, 1967 to Jan. 31, 1969.

His days in uniform are long over, but he still likes volunteering to drive local veterans to their appointments.

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"I survived my time, you know?" Boling said. "But some of these guys are still having a rough go of it. You can sit there and talk to them or just listen.

"I look at it like this: I may be a veteran in need one of these days, too," he said. "It's nice to have someone doing this. And it's been good for me."

Boling said sometimes the people he's driving are stressed out about making their appointments, but the VA tends to be pretty flexible about that.

"You've gotta have patience, and get them to their appointments on time," Boling said.

The program is in need of more drivers, according to veterans services representative Eric Gavlin.

"We're always looking for volunteers, especially for our program where we drive vets to our local appointments," he said.

Gavlin works at the Nevada County's Veterans Services office in Grass Valley. His typical work week involves filing claims for veterans, connecting them with locally available services and helping the enroll in the VA health-care system.

Gavlin also helps coordinate scheduling for two trips to Reno each week, on Tuesday and Wednesday.

"We have a van that's provided by the VA and they're in control of it," Gavlin said. "It stays here in Grass Valley, and it can take a max(imum) of five passengers. Most of them will come here, and they'll meet the driver, park their vehicles behind our building and get in. We have a list of veterans that are scheduled to ride that day and he checks them off and away they go.

"It's great, because there's a lot of veterans that are elderly and they can't drive," Gavlin said. "This is a good asset for them."

All the drivers are volunteers, and Gavlin says that right now, all the volunteers are veterans.

"For our volunteers that offer time and service to drive our veterans, it's greatly appreciated," he said. "We don't pay them — they do it out of the kindness of their hearts."

Gavlin said that volunteers typically undergo a background check, physical exams, drug testing, driver training and test drives before getting certified by the VA. It's a lot of hoops to jump through for a volunteer opportunity — but those who are already involved say it's worth it.

To find out more about volunteering as a driver, or getting a ride to a VA health-care facility, contact Gavlin at 530-273-3396.

To contact Staff Writer Dave Brooksher, email dbrooksher@theunion.com or call 530-477-4230.

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