Medina Journal-Register — ALBION — Thanks to a fund drive coordinated by volunteers, the only county in New York State that offers van service for veterans will continue to operate a six-van fleet.
With money raised since a low-key fundraising campaign started in January, the Joint Veterans Council welcomed two 2010 Dodge Caravans to the Veterans Administration lot in Albion on Friday.
The Veterans Medical Van Service made 649 trips, transporting 1,015 veterans in 2012. Altogether volunteers drove over 60,000 miles, spending 5,210 hours doing so.
The new additions replaced two older vans which had run up such high mileage that they had become liabilities on the road. The newer ones are not only much lower in terms of road-wear, but they also feature stunning signage courtesy of Greg Stanton of Stanton Signs in Medina.
Stanton, a veteran himself, said he had no problem doing the work at a reduced rate because it was for a “good cause.”
The cause is the chauffeuring of local veterans to their medical appointments at VA locations in the area. While most appointments are made in Buffalo, Rochester, or Batavia, sometimes a person needs to be transported to Syracuse or Bath.
Still, according to one volunteer, the drive is rewarding because of the time spent with the veteran in the van.
“It’s an amazingly satisfying few hours,” said Owen Toale, who spent four years active duty and 23 years in the reserves. “The Veterans Administration has been good to me, and this is my way of giving back.”
Paul Fulcomer, the executive director of the Joint Veterans Council, said the van service is “always” happy to find more drivers. In order to apply to be a driver, a person must go through a background check involving several steps.
Fulcomer said Orleans County is unique among other counties in the state in that it has had to expand its service while other counties do not even offer it.
“I gave a van to Wyoming County to try this out, but they wound up giving it back,” he said.
The program only had four vans when Fulcomer took his post before eventually expanding. The council formed in 1995 and managed to begin its fleet thanks to a few grants it received. One constant for the program has been Gloria Kuhn, who is its coordinator. She has been with the council for the past 14 years.
The most recent additions to the van fleet were made possible in part due to a generous anonymous donation. Toale and Fulcomer agreed that the fleet could use both another van and some more volunteers.
“We’re talking World War II vets, Korea vets, Vietnam vets, Peacetime vets, and more,” Toale said. “For some of them, without the vans to get them to the VA, they wouldn’t be able to get the health care they need.”