Talking to the drivers for Dickson’s Disabled American Veterans 28 who transport veterans to facilities for medical needs, it is hard to determine who feels more blessed and encouraged: the veterans who are transported or the drivers who see their role as both an honor and a privilege.
Dickson County has an estimated 5,200 veterans, with nearly 5,000 more in the region.
“We take veterans to the main VA hospital in the Vanderbilt area, the clinic in Meharry, facilities in Clarksville, the big VA complex in Columbia,” volunteer driver and veteran Paul Fox said. “We go to primary care at VA centers like Charlotte Pike to near the Nashville airport. We also will take them to specialized places not covered that their doctor may have recommended like acupuncture or a chiropractor. And we also go the big VA center out in Murfreesboro. For me, it’s all about giving back to the veterans.”
Fox said he has noticed that many veterans light up when they get to a VA facility because of the military bond they share.
Thomas Edmondson, 65, of Dickson County is a disabled veteran who uses the transportation service. He served for one year in Iraq but said that he served most of his time in the National Guard in Dickson.
“I came to talk to the DAV on Veterans Day,” he said, noting that Marshall Vann is usually the one who gets him to his appointments.
He said that he has been diagnosed with diabetes that is likely a result of his time in Iraq where chemicals and other toxins were dumped into the water.
“The van service has been pretty good,” he said. “Every time I go to an appointment, I can always depend upon Marshall to take me there or one of the other drivers.
“I’ve met several people who have become friends,” he said.
Vann, a Vietnam veteran, has been working with the DAV 28 transport service for nearly three years. He said that what he enjoys most is being about to satisfy the needs of veterans to get to and from appointments and showing them respect.
He has also seen a change in many Vietnam veterans that had a hard time during that era when they came home.
“They loosen up and start to let those feelings out, and it’s healing,” Vann said.
Marshall’s wife, Clara Vann, started driving for DAV 28 about 18 months ago.
“I enjoy talking to the people,” Clara said, adding that the biggest challenge was learning how to do the monthly paperwork.
“I got my own little system for making sure things run smoothly, including a calendar to follow,” she said. “There were three riders all the time when we came in, and now there are 65.”
Tom Loose, who is not a veteran, says his role as transporting veterans is fun and an opportunity to meet new people, build relationships and help out veterans.
“I was apprehensive when I first started out volunteering, not being a vet, and to the last man and woman I’ve been completely accepted and embraced,” Loose said. “I had no idea that there was this kind of need for transport. It’s not just people that can’t afford a car. A lot of people just physically can’t drive anymore. We’re trying to fill that need.”
Vann said that there is no limit to the number of new drivers that are needed with only four currently driving. Loose addied that drivers set their own hours for availability. Volunteers don’t have to be a DAV member to drive even though the DAV sponsors the vans.
“DAV solicits and buys the vans that are then turned over to Volunteer Services in Murfreesboro,” Vann said. “They furnish the tags, servicing and fuel. All we have to do is furnish the drivers, up to 150,000 miles. We get that van back and try to trade it for a new van.”
The vans are inspected once a month.
DAV 28 commander Sandy Frasher served in the army from 1970 to 1973. She joined the DAV eight years ago and has used the transport service because of surgery for an aortic aneurysm.
“Marshall takes me,” she said. “He’s always there, helps me out, and I couldn’t ask for a better driver. Marshall is a true, real people person.”
VOLUNTEER TO DRIVE
To become a volunteer driver for Disabled American Veterans 28, call (615) 446-1870 or (615) 943-9977. Drivers do not have to be DAV members.