By DOUG WILSON
Herald-Whig Senior Writer
Linda Bassett, a dispatcher for the Disabled American Veterans van program, is looking for more volunteer drivers who can transport veterans from Quincy to appointments at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Iowa City, Iowa.
"We're down to three drivers, and we'd like to have three more," Bassett said.
The DAV program transports 80 to 100 veterans to Iowa City each month. The round trip is 262 miles if drivers don't have to make route adjustments along the way to pick up other veterans.
Jerry Hickey, one of the three current drivers, has been making the trip for a little more than four years. He is enthusiastic about the service that the DAV provides for veterans.
"It's a blast doing it," Hickey said. "(The veterans) range from their late 20s to the over-100 age range. You get to hear their stories, some of them about families and some about what happened in the military.
Last week, Hickey pulled into a parking lot at the Illinois Veterans Home before sunrise. He had seven veterans making the trip to Iowa City, including some who had driven an hour to take the van. Others were from the Veterans Home and didn't have personal vehicles.
"A lot of these folks don't have another way to get to the VA," Hickey said.
Cindy Briggs, a disabled Navy veteran from LaGrange, Mo., counts herself among the veterans who don't have other options to get to the VA Hospital. She is unemployed and could not afford the round-trip costs. The DAV van meets her at a local business when she makes the trek.
"They really do provide an invaluable service," Briggs said.
Once the van arrives at the VA Hospital, the DAV drivers can relax in a room that's set aside for them to rest, read a book, even eat a free breakfast and lunch if the trip lasts that long.
"Most times we're on the road by 5 a.m. Other times we don't leave until 6 if the first appointments are later. We'll get back to Quincy anywhere between 3 and 6 p.m.," Hickey said.
The 65-year-old Hickey is an Army veteran who served during the Vietnam War. The two other drivers, Jim Fisher and Joe Weise, did not serve in the military but are now serving area veterans' needs.
Bassett said drivers do not need to have commercial driver's licenses.
"They're driving a van. It's not like a big bus," she said.
Applicants do have to submit to a physical and go through a four-hour orientation program. They are accompanied by another driver for the first couple of trips if they are accepted as drivers in the DAV program. Part of the training involves showing drivers where people might be picked up along the route to the hospital.
"We especially need people who will drive on Thursdays and Fridays, and a backup relief driver who will be on call for when others are sick," Bassett said.
She said previous volunteers have said they enjoy driving the veterans and visiting with them.
"We all fall in love with them," Bassett said.
Driver applicant contact
Linda Bassett of the Disabled American Veterans van program will take calls from prospective drivers at 217-228-0695.