July 19, 2007
Dear Chairman and Senators,
The Department of Montana of the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) with 5500 members appreciates your concerns with the services being provided to the many men and women that have served this great nation. Made up exclusively of men and women disabled in our nation's defense, the DAV is dedicated to one, single purpose - building better lives for America's disabled veterans and their families. It is through this promise to our nation's veterans that the DAV, Department of Montana has entered into a project with the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA or VA) known as the Veterans Transportation Network (VTN).
The transportation network is filling a gap left by the closure of the Miles City Hospital in Eastern Montana and the lack of services across our great state. Many of our veterans that are depending on VA Medical Services are getting older and as you know the cost of fuel is rising sharply and leaving many veterans without the means to get to medical care. Because of the vast area that Fort Harrison is serving, some of our veterans are traveling two days to get to a medical appointment and then two days to return home. That is four to five days for a medical appointment. That is where the transportation network comes in as a much needed program for states such as Montana. Our Network consists of two full-time coordinators, 22 volunteer local coordinators and approximately 250 volunteer drivers.
The time and effort that these volunteers provide to the VA and DAV is outstanding to say the least. Many volunteers are putting in 12 hour days or more and driving as much as 500 miles per day. The burden of purchasing the 42 vans currently in service is being met through the many DAV, VFW and American Legion posts throughout the state along with many caring citizens that just want to help veterans get to their medical appointments. The State of Montana Veterans Affairs Board has stepped forward starting last year and has been assisting us with a grant to purchase more vans to cover more territory in the state. Without these resources the program would not be where it is today. The other half of van costs is met through the DAV National Office with grants through the Colorado Trust.
The two employees are paid through the Department of Montana DAV. We receive some grant dollars again from our National Organization. The rest is paid through our membership and fundraising efforts.
Of course the program was designed to fill a need because of the low pay veterans receive to travel to medical care. Raising the travel amounts will not diminish the need for the transportation network. Many of our passengers are from the greatest generation and are becoming unable to drive themselves. Other veterans own automobiles that cannot make the long trips to Fort Harrison. Therefore, we see a need for this program long into the future. We would like to see some assistance such as federal grants for the specific purpose of running a program such as ours. Like I said there are 42 vans with almost 300 people involved in making the system work. That qualifies as a large business that runs on a shoestring budget. The money that these volunteers save the government is astronomical and we would like to see some of those savings be used to help support the program.
We would like to thank you for the opportunity to bring our concerns before you. We are always willing to come and talk about the transportation network. It is our belief that the network is the next best thing to the medical care itself.
Alvy A. Chapman, Commander
DAV, Department of Montana
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