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VA Cutbacks Drive a Fundraiser

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Seeking funds to purchase a van

by Chuck Haddad

Bonner County’s disabled American veterans are still nearly $10,000 away from their goal of acquiring a van to bring local veterans to and from their doctor’s appointments at Spokane’s Veterans Administration Medical Center. The group has raised only $2,000 so far of the $13,000 needed as their portion of the funds.

“Transportation to medical appointments is one of the most pressing needs of Bonner County veterans,” says Donald Carr, the county's Veterans Service Officer. “Currently a van sponsored by the Libby, Mont. chapter of the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) runs through our county on Tuesdays and Thursdays only. A new Sandpoint DAV van would provide transportation to the VAMC on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. This is an important benefit for veterans and deserves our community’s full support."

Ross Jackman, former Vietnam Combat Engineer and now Adjutant of the local DAV Post (Audie Murphy Chap. #15) says a number of fundraisers are planned for the coming months. ‘’A “forget-me-not” drive is scheduled for all day on July 3rd at Ponderay’s Wal-Mart (every penny of which is earmarked for the Van Fund),  and a car wash at Harold’s is also being planned. There are even more ideas for fundraisers in the works.

These upcoming benefits though, says Ross, are scarcely putting a dent in the dollars required. “We really need members of the public to get involved. To put it simply, we need donations, large and small.” An account has been set up at Sandpoint's Well's Fargo Bank, where donations can be made out to "DAV Van Fund."

It was Mike Trenholm, former Khe Sanh grunt and current DAV Treasurer, who in January first started the project. It was originally set up as a way to help raise funds to replace the aging Libby van, which comes through Sandpoint twice weekly (it stops at Mitzy’s 5th Avenue at 6:45 am on Tuesdays and Thursdays  to pick up local veterans with doctor’s appointments in Spokane). After speaking with a number of veterans groups however, the consensus seemed to be, “Why not get our own van here in Sandpoint and ease the overcrowding of the Libby bus?”

It took months of proposals and letter-writing just to gain the permission of both the Veterans Administration and the Idaho State DAV. In May however, final approval for the project was received and fundraising began in earnest, with local DAV members fanning out to most of the local veterans and service organizations to which they belong.

A majority of the county’s veterans organizations pledged $100, as did local citizen Anker Rasmussen, who kicked off the drive with his own $100 gift. The Knights of Columbus and the Lions Club are said to be considering a request for help too but, being novices to the art and science of fundraising, the DAV group’s made more than a few gaffes— for instance, researching, typing up and preparing a grant proposal to the Coeur d'Alene Athletic Roundtable Charity only to be informed by them that the organization only funds athletic events and sports groups. The CdA DAV Chapter however, surprisingly voted to donate $1,000 to the cause as soon as they sell their own old van. (The vans need to be replaced every 4-5 years as mileage goes up).

Former paratrooper and now present DAV Commander Joe DeForest (a handsome, manly fellow!) feels a strong sense of urgency for the project since recent leaks of a memo outlining the current administration’s plans to cut the V.A.’s budget by 1.2 billion dollars after the fall elections. He’s afraid that “frills” like the DAV vans will be the first to be slashed. “Most people,” says Joe, “probably see the DAV vans driving around and assume it’s a government program, but each van is actually be bought and paid for by the local DAV chapters themselves. It's up to the members to not only buy the van, but to provide the drivers.” The volunteer drivers are unpaid, their only recompense being two free meals in the hospital’s cafeteria.

“The VA actually only provides fuel and maintenance costs for the vehicle itself, a likely target for government budget-slashers. The vans have to be ordered from the Ford Motor Company in November of each year and I think it's imperative that we get the funds raised by the deadline so we can get the project grandfathered into the VA’s budget before the cutbacks kick in.”

The proposed DAV van service would begin in the spring of 2005 and would pick up local veterans at 6:45 a.m. at Mitzy’s Restaurant on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays with stops at Priest River and Newport along the way. It would arrive at Spokane VAMC at 9 am. The return bus service, as always, would depend on the time the last patient finished with their appointment, though generally would return to Sandpoint around 3 pm.

“Ideally,” says Joe, “we’d like to start the van in Clark Fork but we’re having trouble finding volunteer drivers in that sparsely populated area and feel it's best to concentrate on basing the van in Sandpoint for now.”

Once again, if you’d like to help our local veterans in this project you can donate at the Sandpoint Wells-Fargo Bank to “DAV Van Fund” or stop by the Ponderay Wal-Mart on Saturday, July 3 and look for the “Forget-Me-Not” Drive table. Look out, too, for upcoming benefits now being planned, or simply come by VFW Hall in Sandpoint the third Wednesday of every month at 7:30 pm and attend one of the DAV monthly meetings. The DAV does a lot more in the community than just fundraising for a new van! For more information, or to be put on a list of future volunteer drivers, please call Mike at 208-263-6226 or Joe at 208-265-9881.

Chuck Haddad, a former Tank Commander in Vietnam, is also a longtime member of the local DAV Chapter.   

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