Have cars, need drivers: Maui Veterans to ride in style

Group searching for 10 to 15 volunteer drivers to take veterans to medical appointments

Debra Lynn (from left), nurse manager of the Department of Veterans Affairs Maui Community-Based Outpatient Clinic, talks to Anna Napoleon, primary care social worker, and veteran Fred Ruge on Friday afternoon, next to a new transportation van for veterans. The clinic is seeking at least 10 to 15 volunteer drivers as soon as possible to work the free curb-to-curb service. -- The Maui News / CHRIS SUGIDONO photo

KAHULUI — The Department of Veterans Affairs Maui Community-Based Outpatient Clinic in Kahului is seeking at least 10 to 15 volunteer drivers to deliver veterans to their appointments in a free curb-to-curb service.

“It boils down to if they can’t find a support system of family or friends or neighbors to provide transportation, they may not get the care,” Nurse Manager Debra Lynn said Friday outside the clinic. “It’s a real needed program for us to assist our veterans . . . and you don’t have to be a veteran to volunteer. We want to make that very clear.”

Drivers of the seven-seat Ford Transit Connect vehicle will pick up veterans from their homes and take them to appointments at the clinic or to outside specialists. Veterans call to schedule a pickup three days before their appointment. The service will be available from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Friday.

Fred Ruge, commander of the Disabled American Veterans on Maui, has been pushing his group and the VA to get a van for nearly a year. He said the VA received the van about five months ago but has not been able to solicit for volunteers until now due to some “red tape” and “bureaucracy.”

“The VA does a terrific job, and I don’t want to criticize them, but just the bureaucracy took that long to get it going,” he said.

Ruge, a longtime volunteer and Korean War veteran, has driven veterans to medical appointments around the island for years in his Ford Mustang convertible. He was recognized in 2012 for his volunteer work in The Maui News’ “People Who Made a Difference” feature.

He said having the service is “going to mean a lot to the veterans” and could easily provide transportation for five veterans a day.

“The sooner we get volunteers, the sooner we can get going,” he said.

Anna Napoleon, primary care social worker at the clinic, said the clinic’s old van broke down over a year ago. She said it had “way over 150,000 miles on it” and “wasn’t safe to drive anymore.”

The new van does not have a wheelchair lift, but it will deliver veterans much closer than the nearest bus stop, near the Kahului Safeway, she explained.

“If we can get them into the van and taken door to door, then they don’t have to sit out there for an hour or wait for the next bus to come back,” Napoleon said. “It’s really a convenience for veterans.”

To volunteer, call the VA Maui Community-Based Outpatient Clinic at 871-2454 or Fred Ruge at 242-8230.

* Chris Sugidono can be reached at csugidono@mauinews.com.