This is insane. They're kicking DAV volunteer drivers to the curb over a vaccine mandate? I say again- they want to kick VOLUNTEERS to the curb? These are the people, many who are veterans themselves, who are giving of their time to help transport veterans to their VA medical appointments.

That was my response after getting an email from a listener who volunteers for the Disabled American Veterans in Sanders County, Montana.

Sanders Co. DAV Volunteer: I was alarmed and saddened be notified, short notice, on Monday July 18, by Montana Veterans Administration in Helena that myself and others of the Sanders County Volunteer Drivers for the DAV Vans who are unvaccinated with either a religious or medical exemption on file must stop driving because VHA Directive 1193.01.

The DAV volunteer also told me that the policy will go into effect on August 1st and will effectively shut down service for at least 200 veterans.

Sanders Co. DAV Volunteer: To be compliant with VHA Directive 1193.01 VA leadership made the decision to start weekly COVID-19 testing for these unvaccinated Volunteer Drivers with either a religious or medical exemption, to be scheduled by appointment, to be done at their nearest VA Clinic [Missoula or Kalispell] prior to being cleared to transport veterans. Veterans are held to a minimum of 72 hours to request transport; anyone can see how this would develop into a scheduling nightmare for both the Volunteers and Veterans.

I sent a request for more information to two separate media contacts at the Montana VA very early Monday morning and have not received a response. (Initial response received from the Montana VA- update below) However, Montana Congressman Matt Rosendale (R-MT) was already on top of it, and joined me Tuesday morning on the radio.

Rep. Rosendale: I serve on the Veterans Affairs Committee, and I see the dismantling of our entire military and the Veterans Administration itself. This is just absolutely crazy. Anyone who's trying to serve without having this overreach of federal government into their personal lives, is being removed from the the military, or even the support system through the Veterans Administration. And I, again this week we will be fighting with Secretary McDonough and trying to get this rule reinterpreted- is all it is. We're talking about interpretation is what is causing these volunteers to not be able to perform their duties.

Rosendale added this when it comes to testing requirements, especially in remote locations like Sanders County.

Rep. Rosendale: When you look at the logistics of even trying to have them be tested before scheduling an appointment and driving a veteran, the timeframe just doesn't even work out.

Full audio with Congressman Rosendale:

Matthew Rosine with the Montana VA replied to my follow up e-mail on Tuesday afternoon, after our story published. He reiterated the VA's policy requiring masks and the the COVID vaccine, adding "It is imperative that we do everything we can to ensure that Veterans are safely transported to their medical appointments.”

I asked a couple follow up questions:

Q's from Aaron Flint: As evidenced by Pres Biden getting COVID...the vaccine and the boosters don't prevent infection nor transmission of the virus. So how does the COVID shot "ensure that Veterans are safely transported to their medical appointments"? How would a driver in Sanders County get tested prior to driving veterans to a clinic in Missoula?

Here's the full e-mail shared with permission by Lark Chadwick:

End of an era. None of us could have foreseen this?

End of DAV Volunteer Transportation Vans in Sanders Co.

This is an emotional and difficult letter to write as there are at present over 200 veterans that rely on and will be negatively impacted by this. Vets who rely on the DAV VTN service to get to their VA appointments.

I was alarmed and saddened be notified, short notice, on Monday July 18, by Montana Veterans Administration in Helena that myself and others of the Sanders County Volunteer Drivers for the DAV Vans who are unvaccinated with either a religious or medical exemption on file must stop driving because VHA Directive 1193.01.

To be compliant with VHA Directive 1193.01 VA leadership made the decision to start weekly COVID-19 testing for these unvaccinated Volunteer Drivers with either a religious or medical exemption, to be scheduled by appointment, to be done at their nearest VA Clinic [Missoula or Kalispell] prior to being cleared to transport veterans. Veterans are held to a minimum of 72 hours to request transport; anyone can see how this would develop into a scheduling nightmare for both the Volunteers and Veterans.

This requirement will begin starting August 1, 2022. 

If Volunteer drivers with religious or medical exemption on file who do not comply with the weekly Covid-19 testing requirement, then VA will remove them as a Volunteer Driver. The loss of significant number of our Sanders County Volunteer Drivers and the Local Area Coordinator will crush this Local Area's ability to continue.

After 16+ years of service to Sanders County Veterans, transporting them safely to their VA approved medical appointments FREE OF CHARGE, driving from 14 to 25 transports per month over many miles to Missoula, Kalispell, Helena, and other destinations, circumstances are making it difficult to continue.

Much thanks to the residents of Sanders County who have been generous financially in support of our Local DAV program over the years, contributing both small and larger amounts towards the purchase and replacement of DAV Vans to keep the wheels rolling for our Veterans. The older Vans were returned to DAV for reassignment or auction, currently Sanders County DAV fleet boasts 4 Vans, 3 newer [2018, 2019, & 2021] and 1 older [2014] all active and in good condition, and on many days most or all Vans in Sanders County have been one the road serving our Veterans. Without Volunteers to support that fleet, VA may call them to Helen for reassignment.

Lark Chadwick, Volunteer 2008 - presently?
LAC DAV VTN Thompson Falls.

 

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