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Saturday, Apr. 30, 2016

Van helps vets get around

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Clay County Veterans Service Officer Les Walden (middle) sits in the van donated by the estate of Leonard O. Buell in February. The Clay County Commissioners signed an agreement to use the van to transport veterans to medical appointments in July. Also pictured are Commissioners Charlie Brown (left) and Paul Sinders. Times Staff Photo.
The Clay County Veterans Department provides veterans who don't have a means of transportation a way to get to their medical appointments.

"It used to be that veterans had to be at a certain place in Terre Haute early in the morning and be gone all day in order to use the Vigo County transport service," Clay County Veterans Service Officer said. "We wanted to provide a service for veterans locally that would not inconvenience their entire day."

In 2003, the Clay County Veterans Office purchased a used car from the Brazil City Police Department for $1, and have been transporting veterans who live in Clay County to their medical appointments ever since.

"(Former) Mayor Tom Arthur and (Council President) Jim Sheese helped greatly in getting us a car so we could do this," Walden said.

The car was used until earlier this year when the Clay County Commissioners signed an agreement in July to use a van donated by the estate of the late Leonard O. Buell, who served in the Army Air Force, in February.

"The van was a godsend," Walden said. "We had been looking for something so we could transport our wheelchair-bound veterans, and the timing was just perfect."

Lucy Strauch, Co-Executor of Buell's estate, assisted in the donation of the van, which has a lift to for easier transportation.

"I don't know what we would do without the veterans in this country," Strauch said. "I don't think they are as appreciated as they should be."

With the van, up to four veterans can be taken to their appointments at a time.

The service takes veterans to appointments at the Veterans hospitals in Indianapolis and Danville, Ill., along with the VA Clinic in Terre Haute.

"We take about 10 trips a month and we try to schedule the service in conjunction with the appointments," Walden said.

The county budgets $1,800 a year to pay for the gas and oil for the van, which travels anywhere from 2,000-4,000 miles a month.

Walden, who is also the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1127 Commander, said the American Legion Post 2 provided support for the car and the VFW also provides financial support for the van.

"The VFW has been great in their support of our service," he said. "We also get assistance from Country Car Care, who takes care of the routine maintenance and service on the van at a minimal cost."

A couple of added advantages of the local service are that spouses of the veterans can come along and the van will pick up veterans from their homes.

"Sometimes a veteran has no other means of getting to their appointments," Walden said. "We are more than happy to pick them up and drop them off at their home."

While the service has been successful, Walden said there have been some drawbacks.

"There are times where we have a full load going to appointments in the morning and another who has one in the late afternoon," he said. "We try to limit the time the veterans are out because of their appointments, but we do the best we can to get everyone we can."

Currently, there are four people who regularly drive the van, but Walden said they are looking for more volunteers.

"We would like to have a couple more people volunteer to drive," he said. "Those who do volunteer will only have to drive once a week or maybe only once every two weeks."

Drivers also have the ability to sign off for a veteran to be released from receiving medical attention, as is the case when one has their pupils dilated during a visit to the eye doctor.

To drive the van, an individual must have a valid driver's license and have no felony convictions. Clay County provides the insurance.

"Since it is on a volunteer basis, there are times when we have no drivers and have to say no, which I hate," Walden said.

He also said they are looking for help in making the van a better ride for the Veterans.

"We would like to put seatbelts in the back so we can strap our wheelchair-bound vets in without having to take them out of their chair and into a regular seat," Walden said. "Also, we would like to have the van detailed in red, white and blue to show that it is a van for veterans. We are also getting a special license plate made up."

Walden said he has some feelers out for the seatbelts and detailing, but he is still looking around.

With the high amount of miles put on the van each month, the transport vehicles have a rather short life.

"The van may not be the best way of transport, but it has been a blessing to have," Walden said. "We should still be able to get three to four more good years out of it."

To volunteer services or to drive the van, contact Les Walden at the Clay County Veterans Office at 448-9015. The office is typically open 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Mondays and Tuesdays, but has an answering machine and all calls are returned.

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