ALTOONA, Pa. (WTAJ) — In the midst of this COVID-19 response, a need for volunteers to help Veterans has never been higher.

As many as half of the usual 80 volunteer Disabled American Veteran drivers in our region are currently not on the roads. Fortunately, local communities continue to support this important program with needed funds and new vehicles.

U.S. Army Veteran Charles Lawrence recently received a free ride to the James E. Van Zandt VA Medical Center in Altoona. The free ride comes from the program run by the VA, and the organization called Disabled American Veterans or DAV.

He’s the first Veteran to get a ride in this brand new 15-passenger van, one of several new vehicles that arrived this month.

“It’s euphoria!” U.S. Army Veteran Charles Lawrence says.

“To have these vehicles, because we’ve been waiting for these vehicles for a long time,” he added. Lawrence is also a volunteer with DAV. 

The vehicles usually come every five years or so. Larger vehicles are particularly helpful at this time, providing more social distancing space.

“Things are different in the pandemic. But we’re rolling with it, finding new ways to get where they need to be safely. That’s the biggest thing. To make sure they’re safe as well,” Rogan Allen, the DAV Hospital Service Coordinator, said.

The DAV put up half of the money for about 18 vehicles in our region. The other half is usually raised by the community that gets them. They are available to pick up Veterans in the 14 counties served by the Altoona VA Medical Center and satellite clinics.

Right now there is a serious need for volunteer drivers. 

“What I would say, is if you’re looking to make an impact in your community and an impact in these Veterans’ lives, it doesn’t take a lot of work,” Allen added.

“You can come in for a day, a morning, an afternoon. We need people to come in and drive these vehicles. Because having the vehicles is one thing, and it’s nice. But if you don’t have the drivers to drive them, it’s all for naught.”

Contact the DAV at 814-943-8164 ext 7383 if you are a disabled Veteran in need of a ride.

Call the VA’s Voluntary Services Office at 814-940-7833 if you’re willing to be a driver.