The Disabled American Veterans are looking for some help continuing a service that has gone gangbusters in the last eight years, driving veterans to medical appointments at Fort Harrison in Helena.
Veteran Mike Carr said he doesn’t know how he would get to the Veterans Administration hospital without the van.
“For me it would be pretty much impossible, ” he said.
Lou Hagener, local area coordinator for the program, said the Havre DAV has had some pledges and donations, but a donation last week by the Havre Rifle and Pistol Club really got the fundraiser rolling.
Bing Coe, club president, and club member Thornton Lindsay presented a check for $1,000 to the DAV Thursday.
Lindsay said the club wanted to help the DAV provide the service, which benefits everyone.
“There are probably guys now getting care that wouldn’t get it some other way, ” he said.
Hagener said he hopes that more money and pledges will start rolling in. He hopes to have the money in place and have the new van ordered before the end of the year.
Hagener said contributions will stay completely local, going only for the Havre van replacement.
Local DAV member Ken Hannah, who spearheaded the effort to get the first van to Havre, said DAV relies on local residents, businesses and groups and organizations to make the local match.
The program started in Montana in 1987, with Havre’s DAV getting its first van in 2003.
The van is available for any veteran to get a free trip to Fort Harrison, where major medical and specialty treatments are available. Hagener said Wednesday is the standard day to run, if veterans call him to set up a trip, but trips on other days can be made as well.
Carr said most of his trips are for visits to eye and foot doctors. He and Dick Zinn said they each take six or more trips a year.
The amount of use is what is bringing up the fundraiser. Lou Hagener, local area coordinator for the service, said the Havre van averages 4,000 miles a month in trips. The guideline for replacing vans is every 200,000 miles, and the Havre DAV needs to come up with funds to match the national DAV portion, with $14,500 needing to come from local sources.
The Havre DAV already is on its second van, with that nearing the top recommended mileage.
Hagener said, especially with the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last 10 years, the number of veterans who need the service is growing — as is the age range of those veterans.
“We have transported veterans who are 21-years-old to 93-years-old, ” he said.
Part of the reason for the service is the situation of the veteran. Aside from having to make the round-trip journey to Fort Harrison — something Zinn said he appreciates being able to avoid — not everyone has access to a vehicle, or family and friends, to make the trip. Others are unable to make the drive due to their physical condition.
Carr said it also can be complicated by treatment — when he visits the eye doctors, part of the procedure is to dilate his eyes, which means he can’t make the nighttime drive back.
When the system started in Havre, it wasn’t used much across the state, he added. That has changed, especially on Wednesdays, the standard day for van trips to Fort Harrison.
“There are so many people using the vans now through this system that their appointments for Wednesdays are booked months in advance, ” Carr said.
Hagener said the Havre van hooks up with other communities as well, helping the vast pool of veterans in north-central Montana. In addition to picking up veterans en route, others along the Hi-Line also are served, with some coming from as far as Shelby.
Evelyn Havskjold, head of the local Council on Aging, said she started looking into getting a van for Havre after local veterans identified the need. She contacted Hannah, who got the ball rolling.
“Thanks to Ken, we moved on, and we really need to continue it, ” Havskjold said.
A local account has been set up, and people can send payments to “Havre DAV van fund, ” care of North Central Senior Center, 2 West 2nd St W, Havre MT 59501.