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Drivers needed to transport vets

Posted: May 7, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: May 7, 2012 1:55 a.m.
From left, volunteer drivers Glenn Grade, John Barba and Richard Szabo pose in a van in front of the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center. From left, volunteer drivers Glenn Grade, John Barba and Richard Szabo pose in a van in front of the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center.
From left, volunteer drivers Glenn Grade, John Barba and Richard Szabo pose in a van in front of the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center.

For the past eight years, 85-year-old Glenn Grade has voluntarily picked up and driven American veterans to and from the Sepulveda Ambulatory Care Center in North Hills.

He sees his service as a privilege and is eager to recruit more volunteers to join in giving back to those who have served and are currently serving in the armed services.

"A lot of them don't have a car or a driving permit because of disabilities," he said. "As they start coming back from Afghanistan, Iraq and so forth, we are probably going to have a lot busier schedules. This is for the vets and we like to help them, but I'm still looking for more volunteers to keep it going."

Grade is a volunteer for Disabled American Veterans, or DAV, an organization that provides vets with round-trip transportation from the Santa Clarita Valley to the Sepulveda Ambulatory Care Center in North Hills.

A veteran himself, Grade isn't letting his age hold him back in aiding American veterans.

"I'm a volunteer-type person and a veteran myself," he said. "I see this as a way to help my vets, today. The Lord has blessed me with super health. I'm in great shape at 85 years old, and I'm still driving."

Although Grade's military service was short, he sees it as a way to build a relationship with those he is trying to help.

"I was in the Navy Reserves," Grade said. "I was relatively young for WWII, but I was in boot camp when the war was over in Europe and I was in hospital corps training at the Seattle Naval Hospital when they dropped the bomb on Japan. I saw no action, so I was shipped down to a separation center where I helped the doctors with exit and discharge exams."

Grade's current goal is to find volunteers to fulfill the two days that currently do not have drivers. Without those days of the week being covered, those who are scheduled for medical appointments have no way of getting to the care center.

"On average, we take around six to seven people a week, but we need every day covered," he said. "Right now, we don't have Wednesday or Thursday covered because we don't have a driver. We have to tell these veterans that there is no Wednesday or Thursday service, and if you have an appointment, you need to cancel it and reschedule for another day if you are going to use the service."

The Disabled American Veterans transportation service is available to those throughout the state of California, and the SCV department offers a pickup service across the SCV, including: Castaic, Canyon Country, Stevenson Ranch, Sand Canyon, Valencia and Saugus.

"These people call into the Senior Center and give their names and their appointment times at the VA and request a ride in the van," Grade said. "We don't take any appointments before 9 a.m. because it takes at least an hour sometimes to drive around and pick these people up, and we need to take them to the Sepulveda VA in North Hills. Most of them have their appointments right there and some have to go over the hill to West Los Angeles."

If the veterans need to go to West Los Angeles, Grade suggests that they take a shuttle from the Sepulveda office to the West Los Angeles office. They need to arrange the appointments so that they are back by 1 p.m. so the other veterans aren't left waiting.

"We wait at the VA center until the last one has gone to their appointment and then we head home," he said. "That's why the cutoff is at 1 p.m. because we can't ask someone who has a 9 a.m. appointment to wait until 4 p.m. in the afternoon for someone to get out of their 3 p.m. appointment. It's not fair. You need to have an appointment between 9 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. at the latest so we can leave no later than 1 p.m. And that's all they have to remember."

Grade needs a total of three backup and five weekly volunteer drivers to properly service the SCV and is appealing to those who are willing to help.

"It's the appeal that we have an obligation to our veterans," Grade said. "They served us and protected our liberties and freedoms around the world. It's an emotional appeal. There are a lot of people out there that don't think about that, but there is a lot who do. And that's who we are looking for."

He also wants to ensure to those interested in volunteering that there is no financial commitment required.

"The van and operating expenses are furnished by the state, and the volunteers are only responsible to get to the Senior Center," he said. "The DAV is the name of the entity that funds the vans and the upkeep. It's a state agency, and they budget everything from the gas to the repairs."

Veterans interested in utilizing the service need to follow a couple of rules placed forth by the DAV transportation company.

"They need to call the SCV Senior Center main line two business days ahead of their appointment, and the center's receptionist will take down their information and appointment time," Grade said. "The Senior Center does the scheduling, and we see it as an accommodation to us and our veterans. So, if someone wants a drive on Tuesday, they need to call the Senior Center by Friday afternoon. Those are the only rules you need to follow. There are some exceptions and I can bend the rules, but they need to follow the rules as best they can."

Grade and the other drivers will then call the veterans one to two days prior to their appointment to confirm.

"I usually call them to say I am going to pick them up at such and such time and they need to be outside 10 minutes prior," Grade said. "We don't go banging on the door, and I'll usually wait outside in the van for about 10 minutes at the most. If they don't come out, I'll drive off. It's the least they can do - be outside on time. I tell them it's a privilege that we pick you up at your home. Other places have them drive to pick up points, but we actually pick them up at their homes. We have a time schedule that we need to keep so we don't make the other veterans late."

Grade is hoping his appeal will inspire more volunteers to approach this service with an open mind, and is eager to spread the word to those veterans who desperately need transportation to the VA Hospital.

"We do pick up at the homes for local veterans," Grade said. "It's a well-organized program, and I am surprised we don't have more veterans utilizing this service. I have respect for all veterans. I'm hoping to recruit some people who have the same attitude."

Anyone interested in volunteering to drive for the DAV must contact the SCV Senior Center and must agree to a physical examination. Volunteers are required to have a clean driving record to qualify.

Vets interested in taking advantage of the free service can contact the SCV Senior Center directly to schedule a pickup.

The SCV Senior Center is located at 22900 Market St., Newhall, 661-255-1588.




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