Veterans need volunteer drivers


BUCKHANNON — Randy Coleman, Chief of Staff for the WV Department of Veterans Assistance, was the guest speaker at the Rotary meeting on Tuesday.  He said his department is making a concerted effort to let everyone know what they do and to spread awareness about the programs and benefits they have to offer veterans and their families. 

According to the most recent 2017 Veterans Administration state summary, there are 142,694 veterans in West Virginia.  Women account for 10,218 of those veterans and 11,033 are retirees. Veterans make up 10.22 percent of our population, which is much higher than the national average of 6.6 percent.

It is important to note that the WV Department of Veterans Assistance’s work brings in nearly $2 billion of federal benefits per year to West Virginia Veterans, on a budget of only $10.3 million.  That is an impressive return for veterans and their families, on the state’s comparatively minimal investment.  The department operates 16 service offices throughout the state with staff members conducting more than 250 benefits consultations daily.  The employees are trained to assist veterans and their dependents in applying for a variety of state and federal benefits. These services are offered at no charge to the veteran or dependent.

The department also currently employs two veterans outreach social workers, Kasey Voloski and Rodney Browning, who travel West Virginia communities on a daily basis.  They provide information, support and guidance to individuals in need of medical care, homeless shelters, and many other services.  If you are interested in applying for benefits, or just want to know what you may qualify for, please contact the service office closest to you.  Buckhannon has an itinerant office open on the first and third Thursday of the month at the Upshur County Senior Center from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.  You can also call 304-472-0528 during those hours if you need additional information.

The highlight of Coleman’s presentation was to bring attention to the dire need for volunteer drivers of the statewide van transportation program.  In July, The West Virginia Department of Veterans Assistance will be transferring the operation of its program to the Disabled American Veterans (DAV). The DAV Transportation Network is intended to provide transportation for medical appointments at no cost to veterans in rural areas or who have no other transportation.

Coleman wants people to know that the program had to be revamped out of necessity because it was going to completely collapse without change.  He said that the shift back to volunteer drivers was not intended to take jobs away from veterans that were being paid for the service, but the program simply couldn’t continue to exist with reform.  Coleman stated, “We’d be ever so grateful and you’d be doing a wonderful thing to help veterans if you could volunteer.”

Becoming a volunteer driver can be a very rewarding experience. It is a chance for veterans to help their fellow veterans. For those who have not served their country, this is another way to serve. Volunteering to drive as little as one day per month will help ensure our state’s veterans have access to the health care that they have earned. There will be no change to how veterans schedule a ride.  If you need to schedule a ride or would like to volunteer to be a driver, call your local Veterans Affairs Medical Center Voluntary Services Office or visit volunteerforveterans.org.

Coleman also brought attention to the facilities his department oversees. The West Virginia Veterans Nursing Facility is a 120,000-square-foot, 120-bed, impressively modern facility located in Clarksburg.  It features private and semi-private rooms, as well as a 20-bed unit reserved for residents in need of specialized care because of Alzheimer’s Disease or Dementia.  Opened in 2008, the facility is considered one of the finest, veterans-only nursing homes in the United States.

Another is the West Virginia Veterans Home, which is a 150-bed homeless facility located on a 23-acre plot, situated in downtown Barboursville. The Veterans Home opened in 1981 and serves as a convenient and comfortable home for veterans in time of need who were discharged under honorable conditions. It is considered one of the finest Veterans Homes in the United States, with a stellar reputation.

Finally, the Donnel C. Kinnard Memorial State Veterans Cemetery is located on a 348-acre plot of land in Institute, West Virginia.   The cemetery can eventually provide a dignified resting place for 66,000 of our state’s honored veterans and their closest family.

An abundance of resources are available on their website, veterans.wv.gov, which was utilized for information and statistics for this article.  The Veterans Crisis Helpline is also available 24 hours, seven days a week at 1-800-273-8255.

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