RICHARD BOECKER gets ready to transport a Sherburne County veteran to the VA Medical Center in St. Cloud using one of the county’s vans. Boecker has been driving veterans to their medical appointments for 14 years. (Photo by Ken Francis.)

Veterans getting a real lift

Subhead: 
Staff Writer
Ken Francis

 

Veterans Day is Nov. 11, and that day, people all over the country will be attending ceremonies to honor those who served this country.
But some people do much more for our veterans throughout the year.
Sherburne County has a veterans transportation program that helps hundreds of veterans get to their medical appointments each year. It is run from the Sherburne County Veterans Service office.
“It’s for veterans of all ages,” says County Veterans Service Officer (CVSO) Eugene Graff. “If they need rides to their medical appointments at the St. Cloud VA or Minneapolis VA, our county will transport them free of charge. It’s a service we provide from our office for any veteran in Sherburne County.”
“I just can’t say enough about this service,” says Lyle, a Sherburne County veteran who served as a combat engineer in France during the Korean War. “It’s just a joy that they have this van.”
Lyle was taking his fifth trip to the St. Cloud VA last week, this time to get a hearing aid. He doesn’t know the St. Cloud area very well and prefers to ride with someone who knows how to get there.
“My blood pressure really would have been high if I had to drive to St. Cloud,” he says.
The county has two minivans used to transport veterans. Four drivers  receive a small stipend for their time. They are all volunteers.
“We just have numerous people who stop in and volunteer their services to be drivers,” says Graff. “They’re all trained through the Disabled American Veterans. They’re given a yearly physical so we know they’re healthy and they go through a license check so we know we have good drivers taking care of our veterans.”
Drivers
Three of the four volunteer drivers have been transporting veterans more than five years. Another just started this month.
Lyle’s driver was Richard Boecker, also a Korean War veteran who served in the Air Force. He has a great sense of humor and gets along well with the veterans he transports.
“I enlisted in the Air Force for four years instead of being drafted for two years because I didn’t want to go to Korea,” he says. “A year after I enlisted I was in Korea.”
“Three years, nine months and one day - but who’s counting?” he jokes.
Boecker, 84, lives near Big Eagle Lake. He has served a lot more time transporting veterans than he did in Korea.
“It’s been 14 years. My neighbor was driving veterans and he had too many trips. I said I’d help out once in awhile.” he says. “Then pretty soon this fellow who talked me into driving moved to Florida and left me with the whole works,” he says. 
He started in April, 1999 using his own car. He’s been driving a few times a week ever since.
“It’s really something I think that’s helped me stay younger,” he says. It’s something to look forward to.”
Boecker says many of the veterans he’s driving now are younger than he is. But he gets to hear lots of stories during his trips, and he’s making friends too.
“I’ve met an awful lot of nice guys,” he says. “Even Lyle.”
Veterans who need the service can contact the office to request a ride. They are encouraged to call at least two days before their medical appointment so a driver and van can be scheduled.
Most veterans are transported directly from the Government Center to their appointment and back. The driver waits for the veteran during the appointment and sometimes transports them to a secondary location if they require a special test.
But veterans can also be picked up from their homes if necessary.
“Some of our veterans just wouldn’t have the means to get to their appointments if they don’t have family members or somebody else who could take them,” says Graff.
The number of veterans requesting the service varies. 
“Some days we have one rider. Some days we’ll have three or four riders,” says Graff. 
Statistics
In 2012, the county transported 411 veterans for a total of 28,752 miles. Through September of this year, 126 veterans have been transported to the St. Cloud VA, 95 to Minneapolis and five to the outpatient clinic in Ramsey.
“It’s a heck of a good program and it’s nice to be able see veterans get into the vans here in the morning on their way for their appointments,” says Graff. “It’s really a nice service the county offers.”
The county can accommodate appointments scheduled at the Minneapolis VA Medical Center Monday through Thursday between the hours of 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. Requests for transportation to the St. Cloud VA Medical Center can be made for appointments scheduled Monday through Friday between the hours of 8 a.m and 3 p.m. and are accepted based on the availability of a volunteer driver. The service is not available on holidays or weekends and cannot be used for emergencies.
For more information about the program or to schedule transportation, contact the Veterans’ Services Office at 763-765-3100 or toll free at 1-800-433-5243.
 

photos


THE BIG LAKE LIONESS ANNUAL GARAGE SALE drew plenty of shoppers to Lions Park Saturday morning. The Lioness Club has been serving the Big Lake Community for 31 years. (Photo by Jennifer Edwards).

TREE EXPERT Gina Hugo works for the Sherburne County Soil and Water Conservation District.