When local veterans need a ride to medical appointments in Indianapolis, that need is being covered.
But when they need to run errands, pick up their medication or visit their spouse in an assisted living facility, that has been more of a struggle.
In fact, a group of veterans found out that was the No. 1 unmet need for veterans in Johnson County, veteran Virgil Kappes said. Kappes and that same group have now found a solution.
Access Johnson County, which provides public transportation throughout the county, and Disabled American Veterans, a veterans advocacy and assistance organization, partnered to purchase a new van solely for veterans. The van, which will make trips to the pharmacy, the bank, assisted living centers to visit loved ones and other errands, cost a total of $17,000 and was paid for with money raised by Disabled American Veterans.
Beginning Veterans Day, on Nov. 11, Access Johnson County will begin offering free trips to local disabled veterans in the new van.
Previously, Access Johnson County had just one van for disabled veterans that was only used to get veterans to the Roudebush VA Medical Center in Indianapolis for treatments, such as dialysis. But for other trips, such as to the doctor, pharmacy or dentist, veterans had to find another form of transportation because the van only goes to and from the VA medical center.
From January to September, the van made a total of 1,339 trips to the VA medical center, or four to five trips per day, according to Access Johnson County.
Kappes is a former officer with the Disabled Veterans of Johnson County who now dedicates his time to assisting veterans, by working with local Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion posts. Kappes found that veterans need rides for everyday errands and appointments, but that no free local transportation was available to them.
So, Kappes spent the past five months raising money and awareness for the need for free transportation for Johnson County veterans.
Kappes and fellow veterans met in May to discuss ways to help veterans in need of rides. The group went to American Legions, VFWs and assisted living centers to talk to veterans and their family members and found that many of them couldn’t afford public transportation but were in need of rides to everyday errands, Kappes said. Anywhere between five and 10 disabled veterans were in need of rides each month, Kappes said.
“We’ve been running into a lot of veterans who are blind and for a lot of them, the spouses that were driving them are in nursing homes,” Kappes said. “Those veterans were having problems being able to get around to the bank or to get prescriptions. We need this service for veterans in Johnson County.”
Kappes worked with Disabled American Veterans to raise about $17,000 for the second van for Access Johnson County.
Now Kappes and the fundraising committee will continue to raise money to pay to run the service. The volunteer group so far raised more than $1,000 towards rides for veterans. And Disabled American Veterans is expected to pitch in as much as $500, Kappes said.
Each of the rides cost about $12 round trip. With the money raised so far, the van can make about 10 trips each month for the next year, Kappes said. But Kappes hopes for more donations to provide more rides for those who will rely on the service.
Kappes has also been going to local banks, pharmacies and doctors offices to drop off fliers encouraging residents to donate and informing veterans of the new service, he said. Kappes and the committee decided to introduce this on Veterans Day because it was the right time, he said.
“This is just vets helping vets. That’s what we’re running this on. It’s very important to take care of ourselves but more important to take care of fellow veterans,” Kappes said. “We need this. Helping these veterans who have nothing is all I think about anymore.”
How To Donate:
Donations of any amount can be sent to Becky Allen at Access Johnson County, 500 N. Morton St., Franklin.
The money will be used to pay for rides for disabled veterans.
How to get a ride:
To use the service, veterans must call Access Johnson County at 738-5523 at least 48 hours in advance, provide the last four digits of their Social Security and have their DD form 214, which is a personal proof of military identification and discharge form.
All will be used to verify the passenger using the van for transportation is not only a veteran, but also disabled, or unable to provide a means of transportation themselves.