United States Department of Veterans Affairs
 Health Care
Volunteer Reaches 100,000 Mile Mark
Among volunteer Jim Cornell's many pins is his '100,000 Mile' award for his dedicated service.
Among volunteer Jim Cornell's many pins is his "100,000 Mile" award for his dedicated service.

Jim Cornell was shocked when he was presented with a 100,000 Mile Pin from the staff at the Tomah, Wisconsin, VA Medical Center. He plans to add it to the numerous other award pins on his much decorated cap. A cap which commemorates the thousands of miles he has driven and hours he has volunteered to "get Veterans where they need to go."

Every Monday since 1991, the 67-year-old former steel worker has transported eight or nine Veterans on the two hour drive from the Tomah center to the Madison, Wisconsin, VA Medical Center. Because he was too young for Korea and family situations kept him from Vietnam, Jim has always felt a need to pay back the men and women who did go.

Not one to waste spare time, while Jim is waiting for the Veterans to complete their appointments at Madison, he volunteers at the Information Desk, directing Veterans and their families to the different offices in the medical center. This gives him a unique perspective on how patients and relatives feel about VA services: "People come up to me and ask who do they talk to when they want to thank someone for the great care they received."

Found $200 — Turned It In

From his own personal, unscientific survey, Jim estimates that 95% of the Veterans he transports every week are very happy with the treatment they receive at VA hospitals.

A familiar figure at both VA locations, Jim is regularly recognized by many of the Veterans he has come to know in his 19 years of volunteering. At 6'1.25 and a wiry 140 pounds with a distinctive long gray beard, Jim has also been seen performing random acts of kindness and honesty. When he found $200 on a hospital floor, he turned it in, admitting that, actually, he could have used it, "but I thought the guy that lost it probably needed it a lot more than me."

Jim brings a serious level of authority to his driving duties. "I don't let the folks talk to me when I'm driving. I have a lot of responsibility driving on the freeway with a van load of American Veterans."

It's a family affair at the Tomah VA Medical Center for the Cornells. When anyone can't locate Jim, they can always ask his son, Jeff, who works in the engineering department at the hospital or his granddaughter, Jennifer, who is training to be a nurse there.

Volunteer Jim Cornell assists Veteran into van he has driven 100,000 miles.
Volunteer Jim Cornell assists Veteran into van he has driven 100,000 miles.

Helping People Made America Great

A part-time painter of the surreal school (Dali is his favorite artist) and deer hunter, Jim came to volunteering in his search for an old fashioned American ethic, people helping people. "You know, that's what made America great and I think we've lost some of that."

"When people ask me why I do this if I don't get paid, I tell them I get paid a lot more than they will ever realize."

James Theres, public affairs office at the Tomah VAMC, added that the staff at the medical center would not be able to do what they do without the help of the volunteers. "We have 360 volunteers and 992 employees. They equal one-third of our work force. People like Jim Cornell make all the difference in providing the care our Veterans deserve."

For people who may be thinking about volunteering, Jim quickly replies, "Give it a chance. It's great for our Veterans. And it will make you feel good."

By Hans Petersen, VA Staff Writer