Ailing veterans need a ride: Physical exam requirement sidelines vets who want to drive |

Ailing veterans need a ride: Physical exam requirement sidelines vets who want to drive

Jim Grant / Tahoe Daily Tribune / From left, William Kerr, who leads the Veterans Affairs Commission of El Dorado County, and Eugene Ross, commander of American Legion Post 795, said they are prepared to go to Washington, D.C., to protest driving rules instituted by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

William Kerr has been driving his fellow veterans to doctor appointments in Reno for the last six years, but in October he stopped making those trips because the Department of Veterans Affairs changed the rules.

Because Kerr’s feet are numb, the result of frostbite he suffered in World War II, he is no longer able to drive a VA van off the hill even though he has a valid Nevada driver’s license.

“I’m madder than a wet hen,” said Kerr, 80. “It’s ridiculous I can’t drive. I can’t feel the bottom of my feet with a feather, but I’ve been driving for 40 years like that.”

Lisa Howard, spokeswoman for the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Reno, said the rules that apply to people who drive VA vans changed last fall.

“For safety reasons, things have gotten more stringent in the last six months or so,” Howard said. “(Before) we had them fill out a health questionnaire. Now we require them to go through the VA to ensure that physicals are done.”

At least 15 veterans from the South Shore area rely on the van service, coordinated by Kerr, to make it to their doctor appointments off the hill. The van that serves South Shore is one of 12 provided by VA hospital in Reno, which cares for veterans who live between Bishop and Winnemucca.

On Friday, George Waymire, 80, who lives at South Shore and served in World War II, missed his second consecutive appointment at the VA hospital because no one was available to drive the van. Waymire is due for a checkup because he has diabetes.

“I’ve depended on the van every since it started six years ago,” Waymire said. “It has been good for a lot guys up here. I’ve had to cancel twice. I was rather apprehensive today. I thought I might not get another (appointment), but fortunately they understood what is going on.”

Since the physical exam requirement went into effect, six from a pool of 120 drivers have lost their driving privileges with the VA. The physical condition of eight or nine other drivers is still being evaluated, Howard said.

Kerr, a member of the El Dorado County Veterans Affairs Commission, and Eugene Ross, commander of South Lake Tahoe American Legion Post No. 795, started the VA van program at South Shore in 1998. They say they are ready to go to Washington, D.C., and testify before Congress to have the requirement eliminated.

“It was a lot of work to get that van,” Ross said. “We do it because of what it does for the veterans. Veterans take care of their own.”

In the last two months, Ross and Kerr have contacted their congressmen as well as veterans in Northern California and Northern Nevada in an effort to change the medical requirement.

The men say they are ready to fly to Washington, D.C., at the beginning of March to testify before Congress, but representatives from the offices of California Congressman John Doolittle, R-Rocklin, and Nevada Congressman Jim Gibbons, R-Reno, have indicated the trip may not be needed.

“Our staff in Reno and Washington, D.C., has been in contact with Bill Kerr and is working with Veterans Affairs to address the situation,” said Amy Spanbauer, spokeswoman for Gibbons. “We are hopeful the concerns can be addressed directly with the VA, however, if they can not, then Congressman Gibbons is prepared to work on a legislative level with the Chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee.”

Laura Blackann, communications director for Doolittle, said the congressman is working with Gibbons to see how the situation can be resolved.

“Congressman Doolittle is aware of the situation, is interested and investigating to see what can be done,” Blackann said.

Joseph Dietrich, 55, of South Lake Tahoe, a veteran of the Vietnam War, is one of three drivers still available to take veterans on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays to Reno. To maintain his driving privileges with the VA, Dietrich had to pass a physical exam.

“We’re down to just a few drivers,” Dietrich said. “I’ve been driving every week, sometimes twice a week. We need drivers.”

To volunteer to drive for the van program, contact Kerr at (530) 573-3414.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around the Lake Tahoe Basin and beyond make the Tahoe Tribune's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.

Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.

User Legend: iconModerator iconTrusted User


See more