At the end of 2014, veterans John Lamb and Barry Sharp earned another title by becoming Pocahontas County volunteers for the Van Transportation System operated by the Disabled American Veterans.
Prior to Sharp and Lamb becoming official van operators, Pocahontas County veterans were driven to VA hospitals by Greenbrier County volunteers.
“The idea came up down here through the [Pocahontas County Veterans Honor Corps],” Lamb said. “Barry Sharp was addressing the Corps at one of our meetings and he said that it was something he thought about for awhile. He really wanted to see this thing happen because we had three vans in Lewisburg and they were having to drive all the way up here to pick up people.”
Sharp explained at the Honor Corps meeting that the DAV would provide a van to Pocahontas County if they could find at least two volunteer drivers. Sharp had already signed up to be a driver and by the end of the meeting, Lamb said he would volunteer.
Sharp and Lamb had to go through extensive training in order to be official drivers for the DAV.
“You have twelve different sessions you have to go through,” Lamb said. “Then you have rules and regulations that have to be abided by all the time. You’re actually schooled on individual critical things by the senior coordinator. After each session, you have a test.”
After all the training and test taking, both were issued Class D Chauffeur licenses.
Pocahontas County received a van in December 2014 and from that time, Lamb and Sharp have been adding miles to the odometer, driving veterans to and from their doctors’ appointments at VA hospitals.
“This is for people who have no means of getting there,” Lamb said. “It’s for people who may have a medical reason they cannot drive that far. They may be able to drive from the house to town and go to the grocery store, the post office and they’re okay, but if they have to go from here to Beckley, it might be more difficult. Some people can’t drive long distances, period.”
The DAV program requires drivers to take the veterans to the closest VA hospital. If a veteran has a doctor’s appointment at a non-VA hospital or doctor’s office, they can still use the van service – it’s just a little more complicated.
“There is a roundabout way of doing that,” Lamb said. “It depends on which facility they’re assigned to. If you’ve got somebody who needs to go to Charleston, we can’t go that far. If their primary care physician is located in Beckley, we can take them to Beckley, then Beckley will handle the transportation from there.”
Lamb and Sharp serve veterans in Pocahontas and Greenbrier counties. They may have only five veterans one day, and then the next, they need to use a van from Greenbrier County to transport everyone.
“There are times, we’ll pick up locally here in town somewhere and then I’ll drop Barry off in Lewisburg and he’ll take another van and drive,” Lamb said. “I put as much as 450 miles on the van in a day and then turn around and do the same thing again tomorrow.”
When the DAV delivered the van to Pocahontas County in December, it had 24,159 miles. It now has 40,900 miles.
Lamb said he is impressed by the dedication of DAV members and fellow drivers in the van program.
“This is the kind of dedication these drivers have,” he said. “At one point in time last year when Barry and I got on board with this thing, we only had one man driving for us, covering this area. With six people, we cover twenty percent of the entire state of West Virginia. That twenty percent has less than one and one-and-a-half percent of the total population of the state. That gives you an idea of how rural we are. Some other areas, they pick up five people in forty minutes and ten minutes later they can have them at the VA. We can’t do that.”
Although the program is set up to serve veterans in the area, the volunteers are limited to who they may serve.
“We’re not allowed to lift anybody,” Lamb said. “You have to be able to get into the van by yourself. We can stabilize them or something like that, but we’re not allowed to lift because it puts your driver at risk. We don’t take wheelchairs with us, but there are wheelchairs available at the hospital.”
The volunteer drivers use the motto “Veterans serving Veterans.” Many of the veterans who can help, try to give back to fellow veterans who need extra care.
“You’ve got men and women on board who served this country,” Lamb said. “They are just as important to us as our families are to us because they are family. Because of that, there’s a responsibility coming upon you to ensure that you do it and do it right. This is how we give back to the others.”
For more information on the DAV van services or to schedule a ride, call DAV coordinator Al Koger at 304-497-2345 or 204-667-1309.