Volunteers needed for new Ely area service initiative for veterans

by Tom Coombe -

Every week, roughly one-third of veterans in need of medical attention at Ely’s Veterans Affairs Outreach Clinic have no reliable way to get there.
A new initiative in Ely has been launched to tackle that issue.
Later this year, a Ford Flex will be turned over to the VA Clinic, and an effort is underway to line up volunteer drivers to transport VA patients to and from the Ely clinic, and to shuttle veterans to Virginia for transportation to the VA Hospital in Minneapolis.
The effort is being steered locally by Mike Pope, commander of Ely VFW Post 2717.
Pope spoke to area leaders about the dilemma at Monday’s annual legislative session and within a day he was in contact with Disabled American Veterans, a nonprofit group that coordinates what is essentially a free taxi service.
The DAV has promised to get a vehicle to Ely by the end of the year, but that solves only part of the problem.
“What we need to do is get dedicated volunteer driers to drive the thing,” Pope said Wednesday. “We don’t want the vehicle just sitting up here with nobody to drive it.”
Located in the city’s business park, Ely’s VA Clinic is open three days per week and has about 10 appointments per day.
“According to the information I got from the VA, about one-third of those need somebody to give them a ride. They basically can’t get there by themselves.”
If enough volunteers come forward, that could soon change.
Volunteers must first be cleared to drive, which requires proof of insurance and age (over 18), and participation in an occupational health assessment and volunteer services orientation by the Minneapolis VA.
“The DAV will provide a vehicle and take them down there,” Pope said of the Minneapolis orientation. “It won’t cost them anything.”
Volunteers can also speed up the clearance process by as much as six weeks by providing a printout of their driving record. Those with medical conditions such as sleep apnea or high blood pressure will also be required to provide medical clearance from a physician.
Inquiries may be directed to Dan Welsand at (715) 398-2416 or (218) 204-0693 or by email at Dan@davmn.org.
Pope said it’s the start of a two-pronged approach.
“We need to drive the local guys around here and get them to the Ely VA, and secondarily we need to get local veterans down to Virginia so they can get the shuttle to Minneapolis. We’ve got guys who need rides down there. It’s going to take volunteers. If we have enough, you may be asked to volunteer only once or twice a month.”
For Pope, the effort is an extension of his speech at the Ely schools’ Veterans Day program, when he urged those in attendance to connect with veterans and hear their stories.
“This is a way for the community to give back with actions more than words,” he said.