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CNY veterans transportation network urgently needs volunteer drivers, office staff

Two men stand facing each other, one older with a walker, in front of a vehicle with the words "DAV" written on its side.
Scott Willis
/
WAER.org
DAV recruiter Bill Gleason talks to WAER's Mark Budd in front of the Syracuse VA Medical Center Thursday, Nov. 11, 2022.

A volunteer transportation network hopes Veterans Day will inspire community members to find some time to give back to those who served in the armed forces.

The Central New York chapter of Disabled American Veterans has a severe shortage of drivers to provide veterans with rides to medical appointments. The chapter is the largest in the country, with 42 vehicles serving veterans in 14 counties from the Canadian border to the Pennsylvania line. Recruiter Bill Gleason said they've lost more than half their drivers.

"When times are good, we've got probably 260 drivers," Gleason said. "Right now, we're down to 116 because of the last three years, especially the one year when COVID hit, people were dying, and people didn't want to be in a van with people they didn't know."

Gleason, a Vietnam veteran, said they're slowly building back their capacity. But for now, he said, they've had to reduce their services even as demand has gone up.

"We don't work on Fridays because we just don't have the drivers," Gleason said. "We cut down on the pick-ups, so that veteran has to find a ride from a next-door neighbor, a family member or somebody else."

The DAV travels more than 830,000 miles in a typical year to transport 20,000 plus veterans. Gleason said he's trying to get the word out about the urgent need for drivers.

"The other way to do it is get the veterans groups… VFWs, American Legions, Marine Corps League, AMVETS and get them to put the information in the newsletter, and then it goes to all the membership," Gleason said.

Gleason said their outreach seems to be working. More than two dozen people have expressed interest. They're seeking drivers and office staff to volunteer one day a week or even once or twice a month. VA Medical Center policy requires drivers to complete an application, pass a simple physical exam and health screening, complete a background check and have a valid driver's license. If interested, contact Bill Gleason at 425-4343.

A blue SUV sits outside the entrance of the CNY Disabled American Veterans building.
Scott Willis
/
WAER.org
The CNY Disabled American Veterans entrance to the VA Medical Center on Nov. 11, 2022.

Scott Willis covers politics, local government, transportation, and arts and culture for WAER. He came to Syracuse from Detroit in 2001, where he began his career in radio as an intern and freelance reporter. Scott is honored and privileged to bring the day’s news and in-depth feature reporting to WAER’s dedicated and generous listeners. You can find him on twitter @swillisWAER and email him at srwillis@syr.edu.
Mark Budd is a graduate student studying broadcast and digital journalism at Syracuse Univeristy's Newhouse School of Public Communications, expected to graduate in May 2023. As a multimedia reporter, Mark helps prodcue audio and digital content for WAER. Mark is a native of Long Island, New York and recived his undergradute degree at Drexel Univeristy.