VA Salt Lake City Health Care System
From Rock Springs, Wyoming to Elko, Nevada, from Idaho Falls, Idaho to St. George, Utah, and spots all over Utah, every morning a group of selfless servants climb behind the wheel of a fleet of passenger vans. Their mission—to ensure their priceless cargo, our nation’s Veterans, make it safely to their medical appointments at the George E. Wahlen VA Medical Center.
The VA Salt Lake City Health Care System (VASLCHCS) covers one of the largest geographic areas in the VA Health system. To help Veterans get to their appointments, VASLCHCS’s Veteran Transportation Service along with the Utah Disabled American Veterans Volunteer Transportation Network offers a shuttle system free of charge. Driving those vans, volunteers, many of them Veterans themselves.
“It’s good to be able to help these Veterans,” says volunteer driver and Air Force Veteran, Richard Kearsley. Some Veterans “either lack the means or their health just doesn’t permit them to drive that far so they schedule a trip on the van. And it helps give them the service they need to get their medical care.”
Watch: Drive Positivity
Richard drives from Idaho Falls twice a month. During his drive, he makes stops in Pocatello, Inkom, Malad, and Tremonton, Utah. Vietnam Veteran, Calvin Stewart, makes his trip three times a month from Richfield, Utah—his route takes him through Sanpete County. In 2017, our drivers logged over 1.3 million patient miles, more than 12,000 trips accident free, and 95% of our drivers are volunteers like Richard and Calvin.
While neither Veteran is paid for his service to his fellow Veterans, they both reap rewards. “It is common feeling that we have among all Veterans—that we’ve all served and it’s important to help each other,” says Richard. “That’s where the real benefit comes—knowing you’ve been able to do that.”
“You get the satisfaction of helping out,” says Calvin. “The patients really thank you a lot and that’s the reward. They appreciate you bringing them up, and they let you know.”
All Veterans enrolled in VA Healthcare are eligible for the free shuttles, but top priority is given to Veterans with disabilities, wheel-chair bound Veterans, and cancer patients. Unfortunately, recently some of these trips have been cancelled due lack of drivers. VA is currently looking for volunteer drivers in the following areas: St George, Richfield, Price and Vernal, Utah, Elko and Ely, Nevada, Idaho Falls, Idaho, and Rock Springs, Wyoming area.
Calvin, who has picked up extra shifts due to the shortage, has simple plea for folks, “[You] need to get out there and help society—don’t want everyone else to do it.”
While Calvin and Richard are Veterans, anyone with a valid drivers license can volunteer. If you are interested in becoming a volunteer driver, call Belinda Karabatsos, Chief of Voluntary Services, at 801-584-1241 extension 2.
If you are Veteran and interested in using the Veteran Transportation Service, head to their webpage: www.saltlakecity.va.gov/veterans_transportation_service.asp or call 1-801-582-1565 ext. 2003 or 1027; or Toll Free: 1(800) 613-4012 ext. 2003 or 1027.