For years, the Veterans Affairs office in Florence has been operating a van to transport area veterans to and from the William Jennings Bryan Dorn VA Medical Center in Columbia.
Veterans from Darlington, Timmonsville, Hartsville and other Pee Dee towns all meet at at 7 a.m. weekdays at the Leatherman Senior Center in Florence to ride the van to Columbia.
“The van is used a lot with the elderly, (specifically) elderly people who can’t drive themselves,” said Veterans Affairs Officer Randy Godbold. “They just need to get to the senior center, and we will take them back and forth to their appointment.”
Anywhere from seven to nine veterans ride the van to Columbia during any given week. The van runs Monday through Thursday.
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Currently, the van is on its second engine with over 310,000 miles on it and is not expected to last the entire summer.
Robert Eldridge Jr., commander of Disabled American Veterans (DAV) Chapter 11, said the van is in major need of being replaced.
“The cost of not replacing the van is veterans will most likely not be able to make their appointments, mostly due to the part that they don’t have transportation,” Eldridge said.
Eldridge said many veterans have not been recognized for claims yet, so they cannot afford to get a vehicle or pay for other transportation.
“You’ve heard stories on the news of all the problems with the veterans getting their compensation,” Eldridge said. “The need of free transportation is needed that much more.”
Veterans not only get to medical appointments via the van to Columbia, they also meet appointments to help them find jobs.
“They meet with social workers so we can turn our veterans who are currently nonemployed, into tax-paying citizens,” Eldridge said. “So the sooner we can get this, get the transportation, get the veterans their compensation and get their pensions, the sooner they become tax-paying citizens. And overall, everyone wins.”
Ford Motor Company and the DAV have been partners for several years. The multinational automaker has supplied many vans for the DAV, and Mike Reichenbach, owner of a Florence Ford dealership, is working to help get the DAV a new van.
“Recently we got together with Ford here in Florence,” Eldridge said. “We’ve announced our dire need of getting a van. They responded, and responded well to the point that for every veteran that comes in and purchases a vehicle here, they will donate money towards the van every month.”
The donated money will be given to the DAV at the end of every month. A new 16-passenger van will cost the DAV between $15,000 and $16,000.
“You figure Ford Motor Company is already giving them a great discount on this van, plus with labeling and everything,” Godbold said. “That’s one of the reasons we thought of coming to Mike Reichenbach because of it being a Ford and the relationship between Mike Reichenbach and Ford Motor Company.”
Community members are also able to donate to the cause. Cash contributions can be taken to Mike Reichenbach Ford, and they will in turn deliver it to the DAV. All cash contributions are tax deductible.
“In a nutshell, we’re very, very appreciative for Mike Richenbach stepping up to the plate and helping us overcome this thing for the community involvement,” Godbold said.
HOW TO HELP
Veterans can purchase a vehicle at Mike Reichenbach Ford, and the dealership will donate a portion of the proceeds. Cash contributions can also be taken to Mike Reichenbach Ford.