Dick Marbes refers to the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) Transportation Program as “pretty impressive.” Marbes, who is the volunteer manager for the program’s northern division, oversees the Appleton and Green Bay facilities.
The DAV is a veteran service organization that offers free transportation to veterans getting care at the Milwaukee VA Medical Center and clinics in Green Bay and Appleton. Marbes is one of the founders of the program that began in 1987. The goal of the program is to ensure that injured or ill veterans are able to get to their medical appointments.
“Back then we had people driving their own cars,” he said. “The best medical care in the world doesn’t mean a thing if you can’t get to it. We fill that void. Transportation is a major issue.”
Marbes, who served in the Air Force as an airborne radio operator, said the transportation program has proven to be a lifesaver.
“The bottom line is, there are a lot of veterans who can’t rely on their brother or children when they need a ride to Milwaukee, because that means they would have to take a day off from work,” Marbes said.
“That’s where we come in. There is a lot of care that is given across the county.”
And getting veterans to their medical appointments to access that care is done by volunteer office workers and drivers.
There are two vans in Appleton. Four vans operate in Green Bay. In August, volunteer drivers at the Appleton clinic provided transportation to 191 veterans from six different counties. They took veterans to appointments at Green Bay and Milwaukee clinics and hospitals.
It is Marbes’ job to make sure the program flows correctly for the medical centers and clinics in the northern region. Part of that is to ensure the vans are safe, clean and dependable.
Wisconsin has 44 vans on the road. During a recent 12-month period, volunteers drove 44 vans across the state, totaling 885,059 miles. Volunteers transported 39,197 veterans, logging 65,104 volunteer hours.
The DAV Transportation program receives a grant from the Wisconsin Dept. of Veterans Affairs to assist with the van purchases, which cost $34,000 each. Once purchased, they become the responsibility of the Dept. of Veterans Affairs.
Volunteer drivers do not have to be veterans or DAV members, but must pass a physical, background check and driving test, Marbes said.
He said the veterans really appreciate the service. Sometimes a veteran will get off the van and acknowledge the driver, telling the volunteer that they know it was a long day.
“We have nine veterans in the van and there’s a lot of chatter,” he said. “After we give them a ride, they will tell us that they don’t know what they would have done if it wasn’t for us,” he said.
Volunteers who help in the office take requests for rides and enter veterans’ names into a manifest. Gerry Arens, who volunteers in the office and drives the van, says the 4-hour shifts in the office are one or two days a week and involve answering phones and scheduling riders and drivers. Volunteers should have basic office filing and computer skills, including Microsoft Word and Excel.
If you would like to volunteer by helping in the office or by driving the van, stop by the DAV office, which is inside the VA Clinic at 10 Tri-Park Way, Appleton, and pick up a packet. Office hours are 10 to 2 p.m., Monday through Friday.