Milwaukee VA Medical Center
Brutal cold doesn't stop DAV drivers
With many Veterans in need of transportation to keep their medical appointments, the dedicated volunteer drivers at DAV were not about to let a little polar vortex prevent them from safely delivering their passengers.
As temperatures dipped to about 22 below zero, accompanied by wind chill of about 50 below, DAV drivers at the Milwaukee VA Medical Center were on the road Wednesday, picking up and dropping off Veterans from Green Bay, Racine and Waukesha, as well as Milwaukee County.
“Unless the drivers felt they didn’t want to come out, or if the vans didn’t start, we do what we have to do to get the Vets here,” said Patty Davis, coordinator of the Disabled American Veterans transportation program at the Milwaukee VA.
Although some Veterans canceled appointments due to the cold, almost two dozen were scheduled for rides Wednesday. Only one driver could not make it in, and he was replaced by another volunteer, Davis said.
“We’ve had cold weather, but not as cold,” said Davis, who has been with DAV for almost 22 years. “I think this is the coldest we’ve ever been, as far as the drivers getting out there to drive. They’re troopers. They came in and dug out the vans because they got plowed in after the snow.”
The Milwaukee DAV did not drive on Monday, when the area was blanketed with snow and the roads were unsafe with numerous accidents. Sub-zero temperatures did not present the same safety concerns, Davis said.
Tom Bierbach, a Navy Veteran who has been driving for DAV for about 4 ½ years, was at the Milwaukee VA shortly after 6 a.m. to make sure his van would start and be ready to roll.
“They have front and back heaters, so the people in back aren’t freezing,” said Bierbach, who already had made two morning runs. “They appreciate that we came in with this cold. We’re dedicated. We all volunteer because we like it.”
Judy Pike, who was driving the Waukesha van, began driving for DAV about six years ago after 33 years as a bread truck route driver.
“The VA was on my route,” said Pike, who, like all the drivers, was wearing several layers of clothes. “I had two stops here when I had the West Allis route. My brother was a volunteer driver. He’s a Marine. He said, ‘You’re retired now, you need to do something.’ He eventually stopped, but I’m still here.”
Phillip Jones, an 84-year-old Navy Veteran, was among the riders on Pike’s van.
“They do a good job,” Jones said. “I’ve never had a gripe about any of them and I’ve been riding the van for years.
“And, we’ve got the nice little girl that does the driving,” he said, which triggered a round of good-natured razzing in the DAV waiting room.
James Cooper, an Army Veteran who also was on the Waukesha van, was grateful he didn’t have to cancel his appointment.
“It’s better to get it out of the way if you can,” said Cooper. “I’m very thankful.”
DAV is a nonprofit charity with about 1,300 chapters across the country that provides support for Veterans and their families. The organization provides more than 600,000 rides annually to Veterans attending medical appointments, as well as providing other services.