The Plumas County Veterans Services Office (VSO) is looking for a few good people to join their volunteer corps of van drivers who help transport local vets in the central part of the county to weekly medical appointments in Reno.
The job doesn’t pay, but that’s OK with the drivers who are often vets themselves, though that’s not a requirement.
Patience, compassion, a desire to serve others and a flexible schedule are what you’ll need most on this occasional gig. A sense of humor doesn’t hurt either, considering the hours.
“Our volunteer drivers typically like giving back to vets and to their communities,” said Plumas County VSO Officer Shawn Bondon from his Quincy office. “This is one way they feel comfortable doing something and filling a need.”
Bondon added that the drivers and riders are good-natured and some are real “personalities,” but there’s a compassion factor, too.
“Vets who’re going to the VA [Veterans Affairs] for treatment don’t always feel that well; they’re not going to the medical center for a fun day. They need our understanding and patience,” he said.
Quincy-area drivers needed
VA Van Coordinator Kathryn Fisher works out of the Quincy headquarters overseeing the needs of riders and drivers for the central part of the county.
“You may have up to five veterans in the van on your day to drive,” she said, smiling. “We do try to embrace a schedule, but things may not work out exactly that way and you have to have some tolerance and flexibility because there may be changes.”
Fisher added that the van drivers typically volunteer every month, but they have their own commitments, too, and that’s why more volunteers are needed for the Quincy-to-Reno route.
Currently, six drivers rotate duty Tuesdays and Thursdays to transport vets to medical appointments at the Reno VA Sierra Nevada Health Care System at 975 Kirman Ave. and Taylor Street off Kietzke Lane.
By 7 a.m. sharp — that’s 0-7-hundred, soldier — riders meet the van and leave the Quincy parking lot at the courthouse annex complex near Feather River College.
Greenville and Quincy riders need to arrange their own transportation to the Quincy departure site.
East of town, as long as they don’t delay the shuttle en route to Reno, the van is permitted to make a few scheduled stops to pick up passengers in Graeagle, Portola or Sierra Valley.
Each driver signs up for one or two days a month, depending on his or her availability.
Best of all, the Quincy-area volunteers are enjoying the use of a brand new, six-seater 2019 Ford Flex SUV donated July 2 to the Plumas County VSO by the Disabled American Veterans, a national organization.
Spending the day at the VA
Drivers need to be available for the whole day because their passengers’ medical appointments can range from early morning through mid-afternoon and arrival time back to Quincy may fall anywhere from 3 to 5 p.m.
Once all of the passengers are shuttled to the medical center or nearby VA clinics, drivers can take it easy waiting for the riders to gather back for the return trip home.
Each driver receives a voucher for a complimentary lunch in the hospital café and there’s plenty of time to read a book, socialize, attend your own medical appointments if you have any, or even catch a nap in the volunteer-drivers’ sleeping room.
Almanor, Chester and Westwood
Almanor, Chester and Westwood vets who need transportation to the Reno VA medical center will want to contact U.S. Air Force Vet Aubrey Hawkins who coordinates the VA van services for their communities.
Hawkins has been a driver and coordinator for 11 years through the Lassen County Veterans Services Office out of Susanville. He maintains a current roster with nine volunteer drivers.
This VA shuttle leaves from the Diamond View VA Clinic at 110 Bella Way and Johnsville Road in Susanville at about 8:30 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Hawkins says it’s best if your appointments are 10:30 a.m. or later. He suggests north county vets with Reno VA appointments may ride the Lassen Rural Bus, operated by Plumas Transit Systems, and take it from the Holiday Market in Chester at 6:23 a.m., directly to the Susanville clinic for pickup and transport to Reno and back.
For local bus schedules, call Plumas Transit at 252-7433.
Caring and giving back
The drive from Plumas County to Reno doesn’t seem long, the VA drivers said, stopping for a news photo in the courthouse annex parking lot one morning while they talked about construction delays on Highway 70 between Chilcoot and U.S. 395.
“It’s a quick ride, most people like to talk on the way,” chuckles driver Carl Davis, a Quincy vet who served with the U.S. Marines. “We all have a lot of stories.”
Meadow Valley’s John Gallagher, a U.S. Army vet, laughs in reply and says, “My Navy friends call them sea stories. In the army, we just call them B.S.! The main thing is, all of these people have given something to our country and it’s good to help and give back.”
Greenville’s Bill Whitcher, a U.S. Army vet and Mike Seekins of Quincy who served in the U.S. Air Force, agree completely.
“Paying it forward, that’s what I’m doing,” Whitcher said.
Seekins thinks back to his service during the Vietnam War when he was stationed stateside at a hospital in San Antonio.
“My term was easy and I just want to give back to these other vets (who need our help getting to the doctor),” he said with respect.
The Navy man, driver David Boynton of Quincy, is also proud to help his fellow vets and take them to the highly rated Reno medical center.
“I’ve used the VA myself for many years, it’s a great place,” Boynton said.
So if you have some free time to volunteer with the VA van program, please call Kathryn Fisher at 283-6357. You’ll be in excellent company and they’ll welcome you aboard.
Volunteer to be a VA van driver
Volunteering as a VA van driver for local vets is easy. To sign up, you need to be available one or two days a month on a rotating basis.
– Must pass an annual physical at the VA and be approved as physically sound to drive (have no medical condition that would impair driving or potentially endanger riders).
– Have safe driving vision.
– Acceptable hearing.
– Pass a basic background check through the VA.
– Possess a valid driver’s license.
– Vets and non-veterans welcome.
Note: the VA van is not permitted to drive in inclement weather or icy or snowy conditions, so wintertime trips are occasionally cancelled or rescheduled.
VA Van Coordinator
Need a VA van ride to Reno?
Courtesy rides to the Reno VA Sierra Nevada Health Care System are available from either Quincy or Susanville for Plumas County veterans with reasonable mobility. The service is for medical appointments with the VA only. Sorry, no personal errands.
Processing is quick and you can be approved with a little paperwork, a government I.D. or VA medical card, proper military service documentation (discharge papers, etc.) and proof of scheduled medical appointments.
Greenville, Portola and Quincy:
VA Van Coordinator
7 a.m. Tuesdays/Thursdays
Plumas County Veterans Services
270 County Hospital Road, Quincy
Chester, Almanor and Westwood:
VA Van Coordinator
8:30 a.m. Tuesdays/Thursdays
Diamond View VA Clinic
110 Bella Way, Susanville