by Eric Stearley
More than 30 supporters including the mayor, the county veterans services officer, and a representative for Congresswoman Jackie Walorski, gathered at American Legion Post 15 in downtown Wabash on Tuesday, Nov. 26 for a ceremony to dedicate the county’s new Disabled American Veterans van. The DAV van serves disabled veterans by providing a free means of transportation to medical appointments at VA hospitals and VA approved locations.
Three years ago, Herb Mullen, Wabash County coordinator for the DAV, brought the van program to Wabash County after volunteering as a driver in Marion since 2009. In the spring of 2011, it became apparent that the loaner van they had been using would not last many more years. He set up a savings account and began raising funds for a new van.
“We decided early on that we were not going to ask the county, the state, or the feds for any money,” said Mullen during the dedication. “We figured that we’re pretty important, but we also figured that we had a responsibility to the county to not become a drag upon public funds.”
With the help of Bob Brown, Mullen organized two newsletter fundraising drives, soliciting funds through the mail. Recipients responded with donations ranging from $5 to $500. They also held a forget-me-not drive outside Wal-Mart, raising $1,600 in a single day, 8 percent of the total needed for the van.
On Friday, Nov. 22, Mullen got his hands on the van for which he and the other contributors had waited the past two and a half years. It was a sparkling new 2013 Ford Flex clad in DAV logos and the names of the programs major contributors. The van hauled a patient back from Marion that same day.
“Wabash County veterans salute and thank you for our new ride.” Mullen said to the contributors present at the dedication. “Those of you who are veterans, if you need a ride someday, we’d be more than happy to give you one.”
That’s exactly what the van does. Its entire purpose is to be driven by one of Wabash County’s four volunteer drivers to the residence of disabled veterans, take them to their scheduled doctors appointments and bring them home safely. The program’s only restrictions are that veterans can only be taken to VA hospitals or VA approved locations, and the veterans have to be able to get in and out of the van on their own power or that of their family. The van will take even a single veteran as far as Indianapolis and back for an appointment.
Mayor Vanlandingham spoke at the dedication, likening the fundraising campaign to a mission, with which the veterans present were all to familiar.
“It’s great to see the community coming together for a mission, You’ve had a very successful mission, and the other thing you learn when you go through this and you get done, is that you take care of your buddies,” said Mayor Vanlandingham. “This is going to be a great service to the community and a great service to our veterans.”
“This new DAV van continues to represent the ongoing need and support that veterans require here in our county,” said Wabash County Veterans Service Officer Cameron Lochner. “This ceremony should serve as a reminder to all of Wabash County that our veterans rare a most valuable treasure that deserves recognition and safe keeping. Calvin Coolidge once said, ‘the nation which forgets its defenders will itself be forgotten.’ It is my hope that our county will continue to grow in its support for the welfare and wellbeing of its veterans and that the dedication of this new DAV van marks only a beginning.”
Mullen is always looking for disabled veterans in need of transportation. He is also looking for volunteer drivers. Drivers are considered “non-compensated employees” by the VA, which protects them in the case of an accident.
Anyone in need of transportation to a medical appointment or interested in being trained as a DAV driver can call Herb Mullen at 260-571-4744.