Santa Maria Sun / News
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 13, Issue 32
Shuttle helps stranded veterans get medical attention
BY KRISTINA SEWELL
Oct. 15 marked the start of a new veteran shuttle service, put in place to take vets throughout San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties to their various doctor appointments, according to project coordinator Milt Batson.
The Central Coast Volunteer Veterans shuttle will serve veterans five days a week, eight hours a day, and transport vets from as far north as San Miguel and Cambria to as far south as Lompoc.
Batson said this project was made possible due in part to multiple entities, among them the Disabled Veterans, Department of Veteran Affairs (VA), and the fraternity of veterans on the Central Coast.
“This has been a tremendous collaboration of the veteran community and federal sector,” Batson said.
He explained that the VA donated four vans to the service and has agreed to fund the fuel and maintenance costs for the vehicles.
Veterans are asked to make appointments at least five days in advance, and Batson said all information is confidential. Once an appointment is made, the VA will notify dispatchers for pick-up times and locations. The VA has also agreed to hire a full-time staff member to manage the program come November.
Batson, a former member of the U.S. Air Force and 40-year veteran advocate, said that he has been working on this project for more than a year. He said he heard stories from numerous vets during his years as an advocate, vets having difficulty getting to their medical appointments.
“This is a downturn economy, and our veterans have ongoing medical needs and not enough resources,” he said.
Until this point, they have only had a Band-Aid solution for the problem. Batson is hopeful the program will be successful and can be used as a model across the United States.
He explained that the greater Los Angeles health-care system for the VA has been interested in doing something like this for years, but the outlook was always costly.
“Programs can only do so much; funding is always a problem,” he acknowledged.
Batson gave high praise to volunteer drivers who’ve helped make this possible; many of the veterans are volunteers themselves.
Steve LeBard, a veteran and a vocal advocate in the veteran community, couldn’t be more thrilled with the introduction of this service.
“There are a lot of homeless or homebound veterans out there who don’t have access to the services they need because they can’t get there,” LeBard said.
He said the funding to help veterans is there, but it hasn’t always been put to use in the right places. However, LeBard feels this shuttle service is a step in the right direction.
Batson is elated to see the program finally come to fruition and hopes it will see success.
“This program shows what caring entities can do when people work together,” he said.
For more information on the service or to become a volunteer, call 481-2622.