When a person becomes a member of the United States armed forces, regardless of the branch or job title, the bottom line is, their lives are on the line in service to our country. Doesn’t matter if you’re assigned the job of clerk-typist, cook or any other supposedly non-combat related jobs, when your orders say it’s time to grab your weapon and fight, that’s what you do.

Untold millions of Americans have stepped up to accept that reality as officers and enlisted personnel. Many of them have paid the ultimate price because they did so.

Others, like the members of the Disabled American Veterans Association, or DAV, came home ill or injured because of their service and for many, the burdens they brought back with them will last a lifetime. Locally, DAV Chapter 234 in Stephenville, commanded by Harry Woodward is responding to their needs.

There’s no Veterans Administration medical facility in Erath County, so vets in need of medical attention through the VA must somehow get to Waco, Temple or Brownwood to be treated. That’s where the local DAV’s van transportation program comes in.

This all-volunteer program is staffed by some of the most dedicated individuals you’ll ever meet. And if you ask anyone involved, they’ll point to program coordinator Robin Richie, wife of Vietnam vet Ken Richie, as the glue that makes the van program work. She does so primarily from a home office dedicated to the effort and no compensation is received by the Richie’s for the use of the space in their home.

Many people think the DAV is a federally-funded program but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

“It’s totally private. It’s financed by donations and fund raisers and, under current rules, we can only have two fund raisers a year," Richie said “Since we have our own office in Stephenville now, we’ve gotten a few grants such as the United Way, but on a year-to-year basis it’s just donations.”

She points out the use of the office space is itself donated rent free by the owner of the building.

There are some exceptions to that funding situation, but they’re few and far between.

“The VA helps with funding with the van program by providing matching funds or discounts they can arrange with a car dealership,” Richie said. “We have one van; at the end of 2011 we got approved for our second van but, just before that was to happen, the old van was totaled in an accident, so we still have just the one. We basically just had to start over and go forward.”

The details and results of this program are impressive. The van transports veterans five days a week. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays the van goes from Stephenville to Waco and Temple. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, it runs to the VA facility in Brownwood.

In 2013 the van program logged 2,227 volunteer hours. That was accomplished by Richie as the coordinator and three drivers.

“Over 38,000 miles were driven,” Richie said, “and that made possible 441 doctor appointments for our veterans. That was an overall increase of more than 30 percent from 2012.”

As it is with the rest of the local DAV, the drivers of the van are all volunteers who alternate on their days scheduled to drive.

“Right now we have three drivers but we’re looking for more to help lighten the load on those folks.”

On Tuesday, Feb. 25, the DAV will hold a training class for anyone interested in volunteering. It will run from 10 a.m. to noon at the Chapter 234 office located at 408 East Road. To find out more, call the local DAV office at 254-918-5660 or contact Richie at 965-2689.

Remember, this is a volunteer organization, so phones aren’t always staffed. Richie and Woodward ask that people leave a message if there’s no live reply and someone will get back to them shortly.