Since January, more than 200 Southeastern Minnesota veterans have utilized free rides to treatment provided by Disabled American Veterans of Minnesota.
Thomas GoForth is a Vietnam vet who relies on the program to get to the Minneapolis VA Health Care System for his cancer treatments. GoForth often has to go to the Twin Cities multiple times a week for appointments and treatments.
Before the DAV’s transportation program, GoForth would have to spend the night in the Twin Cities in order to wait for shuttles to take him back to Rochester. The situation was costly.
“I cancelled appointments because I needed money to get there,” GoForth said. DAV's ride program is volunteer run and costs nothing for veterans.
GoForth has been utilizing the DAV’s transportation program since the start of the year, when it replaced a system run by Olmsted County Veteran’s Services. Many of the veterans who utilize the program, such as GoForth, served in the Vietnam War, and many of them can no longer drive.
Last spring, a representative of DAV of Minnesota asked Olmsted County Veteran's Services if the DAV could expand its transportation program to Southeastern Minnesota. The DAV's offer came at a great time. Funding for the county's van program, which transported veterans to appointments at the Minneapolis Veterans Affairs Medical Center, was drying up, according to Nathan Pike, the Olmsted County Veteran's Services officer supervisor.
The DAV expanded the program to provide transportation for veterans who are not wheelchair bound to any appointment scheduled with the VA. That includes physical therapy appointments scheduled at non-VA medical facilities.
In addition to taking over transportation in Olmsted County, the DVA also runs transportation programs in Winona and Steele counties.
The two DAV vehicles in Olmsted County take veterans to their medical appointments at the Rochester VA Clinic and the Minneapolis VAMC. Winona County also has two DAV vehicles that transport veterans to appointments at VA medical centers in Rochester and Minneapolis and Tomah, Onalaksa, and La Crosse, in Wisconsin.
Steele County has one DAV vehicle that takes veterans to appointments in Mankato, Albert Lea and Rochester VA medical centers. Steele County still takes veterans to appointments in Minneapolis.
Without this program, GoForth said that he would never be able to get to his treatments and appointments. He is happy that Kati Carpenter, the Southeast transportation coordinator for the DAV of Minnesota, has been able to work with his heavy schedule of appointments, many of which are scheduled or changed with short notice.
“She really works with vets,” GoForth said about Carpenter’s accommodations.
While Carpenter can work with veterans who have their appointments scheduled on short notice, she prefers that veterans schedule rides at least a week in advance or as soon as appointments have been made.
Additionally, Carpenter asks that veterans schedule their appointments between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. Monday through Friday to allow for driving routes to be scheduled accordingly.
Amy Semmen, the nurse manager at the Rochester VA, calls the DAV transportation program an "asset" to the clinic because lack of transportation can be a significant barrier for older veterans who are trying to receive care. Missed appointments mean that the clinic is not able to provide care to as many veterans as they possibly could.
"DAV is the main transportation service we work with," Semmen said. "They are reliable, consistent, flexible and easy to work with.”