Drive a hero in Oklahoma

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Shantel McJunkins (right), Voluntary Service Specialist, helps Marine Veteran Dennis Hammons fill out an application to become a new DAV volunteer driver on June 25 at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Catoosa. –Photo courtesy of VA Public Affairs Specialist Nathan Schaeffer

One-stop-shop set up for volunteers at the Oklahoma state convention

DAV’s Transportation Network depends on the service of volunteers to transport veterans to and from their appointments at no cost, and finding those volunteers has proven difficult in communities across the country. The DAV Department of Oklahoma has developed a new way to recruit drivers: the Drive-a-Hero event.

DAV members in Oklahoma hosted the first “one-stop-shop” event at their department convention in June, making it easier for volunteers to complete the necessary requirements in a single day.

They coordinated with the Eastern Oklahoma VA Health Care system so potential drivers could meet with VA staff to perform the required background checks and physical evaluations. Trained professionals were also on hand to conduct volunteer orientation and annual training for new and seasoned volunteers.

Regina Sallee, Service Support Specialist with the Eastern Oklahoma VA Health Care System, provides driver training to DAV volunteers on June 25 at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Catoosa. –Photo courtesy of VA Public Affairs Specialist Nathan Schaeffer

“It’s a motivator for us to go out and recruit, when we can ask people if they want to volunteer, to be able to bring them in and in one day get them through all the prerequisites that can normally take 90 days or greater,” said Department of Oklahoma Adjutant Danny Oliver. “When a person comes in to volunteer, they’d like to roll up their sleeves and start volunteering. They don’t want to have to wait two to three months.”

The debut event was a success for the department, and Oliver said they hope to have another one soon.

“It’s a win-win,” he said. “When we can do something of this nature, it has some outreach abilities to reach large civic groups or church groups who are always looking for something to do. We’ve actually expanded our volunteer opportunities for those who are still gainfully employed, but who still want to give back to the veteran community.”

By the end of the day, 34 new volunteers had signed up to help veterans in Eastern Oklahoma. According to Oliver, that many volunteers usually takes years to onboard, which wouldn’t have been possible without their partnership with the VA.

Jana Burk, Medical Technologist with the Eastern Oklahoma VA Health Care System, gives Marcus Lutz a TB skin test on June 25 at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Catoosa. Lutz, who served in the Army and Oklahoma Air National Guard, volunteered to be a new DAV driver. –Photo courtesy of VA Public Affairs Specialist Nathan Schaeffer

“The Eastern Oklahoma VA Health Care System is grateful for the support and ongoing partnership with our local DAV partners,” said Jonathan Plasencia, associate director for Eastern Oklahoma VA Health Care System. “The Drive-a-Hero campaign will ensure veterans who do not have transportation continue to get access to vital VA health care services. I was proud to share this successful campaign with Ralph Gigliotti, Director of the VA Rocky Mountain Network, who has shared this initiative with other VA health systems in our network.”

“I’m extremely pleased our Drive-a-Hero event ran like a well-oiled machine due to our collaborative efforts,” Oliver said. “But more importantly, it’s an opportunity for us to help bring our community together to serve those who have defended our freedoms.”

“There has been a decline in volunteerism across the country, which directly impacts our ability to serve the veteran population,” said National Voluntary Services Director John Kleindienst. “The Drive-a-Hero event in Oklahoma took away a lot of the tedium that may discourage potential volunteers.”

To be a volunteer driver, you must possess automobile insurance to show the VA you are insurable. According to Oliver, the reward for serving others is worth all the time and energy it requires.

Minzi Park (right), Muskogee VA Regional Office, assists Air Force Veteran Jim Davis with a benefits claim on June 25 at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Catoosa. –Photo courtesy of VA Public Affairs Specialist Nathan Schaeffer

“The first time a volunteer takes that veteran who they know needs that ride, and that veteran says thank you, you can’t put a price tag on that,” Oliver said. “You’re being thanked by a hero. Volunteering a few hours a week is a small price to pay to serve those who protected us.”

“We’re grateful any time someone decides to give back to those who served and we encourage those who are considering volunteerism to contact their local DAV office or chapter,” said Kleindienst. “You don’t have to be a veteran to help veterans, and you can dedicate as much or as little time—even just one day a month—as you are able.”

To find out more about DAV’s Transportation Network or to find ways to volunteer in your community, go to dav.org or volunteerforveterans.org.

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