DAV MN & CVSO Team up to help Veteran

DAV of Minnesota Transportation Coordinators are quick to say our transportation program changes and saves lives, but it truly does. We talk each year about the tens of thousands of miles driven and thousands of Minnesota Veterans who received rides, but we often don’t share the stories of specific moments we know the program is doing what it was meant to do, and how we continue to ensure no Veteran has to neglect their health because they cannot afford transportation.

On Friday May 14th, 2021 a Minnesota County Veteran Service Officer (CVSO) received a phone call, often too familiar, about a resident Veteran who had been discharged from a local VA Medical Center after a recent drug overdose, alone, with no one knowing where he was. This Veteran, like so many others, carries invisible wounds of battle from his service and self-medicates with drugs and alcohol and struggles with mental health. Throughout the night, the CVSO worked to stay in touch with the Veteran’s family and local contacts, just trying to track him down and ensure he was safe. Well into the evening of May 14th the CVSO finally received a call from the Veteran, and they started making plans to change his life. The CVSO worked with VA staff and social workers to secure the Veteran a space at a VA treatment facility that coming week where he would get the tools to overcome his drug and alcohol addiction and lay the ground work for bettering his mental health.

But how was the Veteran supposed to get himself to that facility, located 9 hours away and over 550 miles? This task is daunting to say the least for a healthy person. The CVSO team decided if push came to shove, they would personally drive the Veteran to the facility. They reached out to a DAV of Minnesota Transportation Coordinator to find out if there was any assistance available. DAV of Minnesota Department staff volunteered their department vehicle for the occasion, to ensure VA regulations didn’t get in the way of the veteran getting the help they needed and a volunteer driver rose without hesitation stating “YES, I will drive him!” The CVSO team ensured the Veteran was housed over the weekend in a local motel, even ordering him pizza to make certain he had food and made plans to leave that coming Monday to the facility.

On Monday May 17th, 2021 the CVSO and volunteer met the Veteran, who was not in a lucid state of mind struggling with hallucinations and effects of drug and alcohol use. After a few difficult moments the volunteer driver, a veteran himself, took firm, yet compassionate, control of the situation and stated “OK, I’ve heard enough, lets get on the road” and they started on their 9-hour drive. After a few hours in the vehicle the Veteran confessed to the volunteer if they hadn’t been able to get him to the facility, he had planned on ending his life. During the many hours in transit the Veteran and volunteer connected. They shared stories of their time in service, families, youth, struggles and goals. The Veteran came to trust the volunteer so much, at one point he asked him to pull over and admitted he had alcohol in his suitcase he would like to get rid of before they got to the facility. These men stood next to each other, on the side of a desolate road, and dumped out the bottles ceremoniously as the Veteran stated “No more.”

Nearly 18 Veterans die by suicide each day. This is the number recently released by the VA in their 2020 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report. The abuse of alcohol or drugs is second to depression as the most frequent risk factor for suicidal behavior. Because of the kindness and steadfastness shown by the Minnesota CVSO and DAV Volunteer this veteran did not become another somber statistic and is able to fight another day. Because of thecompassion and humanity shown, this Veteran’s children will still have their father and his wife will still have her husband. Our transportation program is so much more than simply giving rides to VA appointments and our volunteers are beyond basic drivers.