SIDNEY — When federal funds to transport a portion of Shelby County’s disabled military veterans were pulled last year, local officials took the matter into their own hands to fill that need. It didn’t take long for them to step on the gas.
In December, the Shelby County Veterans Service Commission received a new 12-passenger mini-bus to transport all local veterans to the Veteran’s Administration (VA) Center in Dayton free of charge. The vehicle has wheelchair accessibility, a feature not available before by the service commission.
Executive Director Ed Ball said when local veterans needed medical transportation previously officials from the VA Center would send vehicles and return patients to Shelby County following their appointment. In July 2015, he was notified the VA would begin enforcing federal directives which called for providing free transportation only for those injured in an active military conflict.
Those not disabled during their service time would now need to provide their own transport.
“They told us (all service agencies) that we no longer fit the criteria for medical transport. We had a van, but for any veterans in wheelchairs, we had no vehicles,” he said.
In 2015, the local service commission transported 670 individuals to medical appointments free of charge, according to Ball. In all, the office oversees 3,658 Shelby County veterans having served from World War II to current day.
Last year, based on insurance guidelines, local drivers of transport vehicles were not permitted to assist wheelchair-bound individuals due to the van not being designed for such transport. With the mini-bus, that has changed. Drivers may now help passengers onto the wheelchair lift, operate the lift and then secure them once inside the vehicle.
Ball said the bus is on the road at least once a week. By strategically scheduling medical appointments fewer trips are needed. Ball said efforts are made for all veterans to have morning appointments the same day. This allows the driver and bus to stay at the VA until their medical visits are complete.
The bus cost $53,000 through a state bidding process. The cost was covered by Local Government Funds through the Shelby County Commissioners. The insurance, maintenance and licensing of the bus are also administered by commissioners.
Ball said the bus is securely parked at the county sheriff’s office when not in use. He hopes the lifespan of the bus will surpass 300,000 miles.
It was manufactured in Kansas, and colorfully detailed by W Productions of Urbana. The detail work was covered by the Shelby County DAV Chapter 48.
Three part time drivers handle transporting patients with the bus and van averaging 20 hours each per week. The local drivers include Steve Wearly, James McGee and Jim Neilan, all former veterans themselves.
For information regarding the mini-bus or other veteran services, contact Ball at 937-498-7282; or by e-mail at email@example.com.
The writer is a regular contributor to the Sidney Daily News.