Reno Veterans Administration making transportation changes | NevadaAppeal.com

Reno Veterans Administration making transportation changes

Rhonda Costa-Landers
Appeal Staff Writer
Cathleen Allison/Nevada Appeal Disabled American Veteran van driver George Egbert, right, watches as Stan Kessler disembarks at his home Thursday afternoon. Veterans, who ride the van to and from medical appointments in Reno, face new restrictions.
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Disabled American veterans who use DAV Transportation Network vans to go to Reno for medical appointments have a few new stipulations to deal with come Jan. 1.

Any veteran who has any other means of getting to the medical center, such as a spouse or child, cannot ride the van. If the veterans have a car and anyone in the family can drive, they cannot ride the van.

These have always been national rules but were not enforced, according to Dr. Kurt Schlegelmilch, director of the Reno Veterans Administration Center. Now the center must limit the number of trips made by the vans to the hospital.

“The van cannot go unless we have at least four veterans to transport that day,” said Ed Johnson, driver coordinator of the program. “This will probably be Tuesdays and Thursdays.

“If we can get vets to coordinate all their appointments on Tuesdays and Thursdays, great, we can do this. But I don’t think we can.”

The vans used to transport patients are purchased by Disabled American Veteran chapters, then donated to the VA center. The center licenses, insures and maintains the vehicles.

The program has been running five days a week since June 1995. Johnson said it used to average eight veterans a day to Reno, but ridership is down to four.

Stan Kessler, 80, who recently came to Carson City with his wife, Thelma, has used the service several times since moving from Lincoln City, Ore.

“He has several medical conditions he has to go to the doctor for,” Thelma said. “But I am the only person he has in the whole world and I’m practically blind, so these rules will not affect him.”

Johnson said ridership may be dropping off since the opening of the VA medical clinic in Minden. General physician appointments are offered there. But for special testing such as MRI, ultrasound or CT scans, the patient must go to Reno.

“Schlegelmilch is trying to save money, and I don’t blame him,” Johnson said. “The government is being short with the VA on how much they can have, which is never enough anyway. My feeling is if a vet has an appointment, we have to get him there.”

If a veteran has a question about the new rules, they should call Frank Greenwood, DAV hospital service coordinator at 328-1406, or John Howard, director of volunteer services at 328-1491.

Johnson said 10 vans that go to the VA center. Four are based in Nevada – in Gardnerville, Winnemucca, Hawthorne and Fallon. There are about 20 volunteer drivers in Nevada.

Lisa Howard, spokeswoman for Schlegelmilch, said the center is implementing guidelines and running more safety checks on vehicles to ensure passenger safety.

“There are times that are judgment calls on whether a vehicle should be on the road in certain weather conditions,” Howard said. “Some of the routes are particularly hazardous. We had two vets who died from injuries resulting from an accident that occurred on June 9 on (Interstate) 80, and we felt the need to do a nuts-and-bolts review.

“If there is any kind of road control in effect, we don’t go.”

Howard said appointment coordinators will then do their best to schedule follow-up appointments on a Tuesday or Thursday.

“We are trying to make their lives a little easier,” Howard said. “We want to stick to established days as much as possible. But if we need to go around them on occasion, we’re not opposed to that at all. We are flexible.”

But Johnson foresees complications.

“I’m concerned that if we only have two passengers, we have to call them and say we don’t have enough riders to go,” Johnson said. “Then I have to call the VA and the patients have to reschedule their appointments. Some appointments are made three and four months out.”

— Contact Rhonda Costa-Landers at rcosta-landers@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1223.

So you know

WHO: Disabled American Veterans who use the Transportation Network

WHAT: Changes to program

WHEN: Jan. 1

CALL: Frank Greenwood, hospital service coordinator, 328-1406; John Howard, director of volunteer services, 328-1491; Dr. Kurt Schlegelmilch, VA Center director, 328-1264