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Supportive community assists Lowcountry Veterans

As part of the annual Christmas in July program, The American Legion Post 166 Riders donated clothing, personal care items, backpacks, hygiene items and shoes totaling more than $2,400.
As part of the annual Christmas in July program, The American Legion Post 166 Riders donated clothing, personal care items, backpacks, hygiene items and shoes totaling more than $2,400.

There are currently close to 600 community members who volunteer their time to help the more than 80,000 Veterans served by the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center, its six outlying clinics, three Veteran centers and the Beaufort National Cemetery.

These volunteers are an invaluable supplement to the staff and care provided across the Charleston VA health care system.

Seventy-year-old Marine Corps Veteran and Disabled American Veterans member Doug Hart is one of these volunteers. He has been volunteering at the Charleston VAMC for more than seven years as a driver who helps Veterans get to and from their medical appointments as part of the Veterans Transportation Network. During the last three years Hart has been serving as the transportation coordinator for the Beaufort/Sun City area of South Carolina.

“I get to meet and help a lot of people,” said Hart. “I know I have people that ride my van that I’m the only person they may have contact with that day or week because they live in such remote locations. That makes me feel good, too.”

Hart says that he takes phone calls from approximately 245 patients from his area who need rides. His group of drivers transport an average of 70 patients per month, commuting 4,200 miles, and averaging more than 230 hours of volunteer time per month. Without this free, volunteer-based transportation service Veterans may not be able to get to scheduled medical appointments or would have to pay someone to drive them.

Voluntary Service at the Charleston VAMC has an ongoing need for drivers throughout the medical center’s catchment area. The VA serves Veterans along the South Carolina and Georgia coasts and the drivers help Veterans get to critical medical appointments. Currently, drivers are needed in the following areas: Savannah, Beaufort, Myrtle Beach/Conway, Dorchester Country and Berkeley County.

“It is truly incredible to see the dedication our volunteers have to helping Veterans at all of our VA facilities,” said Voluntary Service Program Manager Sue Kerver. “They are vital and assist in many areas throughout our hospital and catchment area.”

Kerver shares that, along with drivers, there is a need for volunteers to make appointment reminder phone calls to Veterans and to serve as Red Coat NaVAgator Ambassadors.

“Our NaVAgators help Veterans find their way around the hospital and clinics to ensure they make it to their appointments,” said Kerver. “We try to station volunteers at every entrance and some elevator lobbies, in a red vest, so they are easy to identify as NaVAgators. These volunteers either walk Veterans directly to the clinical area or are able to give clear directions on where to go.”

“We are also grateful to our very generous community for the monetary and in-kind donations we receive throughout the year to help with the needs of our Veteran patients,” said Kerver.

Just last month Charleston VAMC received more than $6,000 worth of in-kind donations from community partners during the 12 Days of Christmas in July program. Veteran Service Organizations and other community groups donated personal care items and clothing to help Veterans in need. The Isle of Palms Exchange Club has sponsored three months of supplies for the complementary coffee service for Veteran patients.  The Charleston Exchange Club sponsored an additional month. These sponsorships covered the medical center and all six of its VA community outpatient clinics and Veteran Centers.

Disabled American Veterans raised funds to replace a vandalized van, Soldiers’ Angels delivered a full truckload of Girl Scout cookies and Boy Scout popcorn, as well as several pallets of coffee, the Navy League donated $5,000 to sponsor the medical center’s USA Today subscription – the list for donations goes on and on, both from organizations and individual donors.

Voluntary Service is currently in need of several donations to continue their services for Veterans. That list includes: CARTA and Chatham bus passes, Uber and Lyft gift cards, gas cards and the monthly coffee cart sponsorship.

“Simply put, we could not do what we do without the support of our community,” said Kerver. “We are fortunate to live in an area that honors and respects the service of our Veterans and this is reflected by the thousands of hours our volunteers give annually, as well as their substantial donations.”

Kerver stressed that, with no administrative overhead, every dollar donated to Charleston VAMC goes directly to a Veteran in need and funds can also be earmarked by the donor toward certain programs or populations, such as the homeless program or women Veterans.

To learn more about becoming a Volunteer, or how you can help the Veterans at the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center and its clinics, visit www.charleston.va.gov/giving, call Voluntary Service at (843) 789-7230, or subscribe the Voluntary Service newsletter by CLICKING HERE.

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