A local program serving those who served needs some help.
Sponsored by Grand Traverse Area Disabled American Veterans Chapter #38, the Transportation Network carries military veterans to medical appointments in Saginaw, Ann Arbor and Detroit.
“Typically we make trips five days a week, Monday through Friday,” John Leffler, a Vietnam War veteran who serves as the program’s coordinator, tells The Ticker. “We usually transport 10 to 20 veterans each week.”
In order to get those northern Michigan vets to their downstate appointments, Leffler relies on a team of volunteer drivers. When he took over the program in January, there was only one driver. “Since then we’ve been able to recruit some drivers,” says Leffler. “Now we have 14, but I’m looking to get that up to about 30.”
With winter approaching, Leffler is particularly concerned since several drivers are snowbirds who leave for weeks or months at a time. Volunteer drivers must have a valid drivers license and good driving record. They must also pass a physical exam.
Leelanau County resident Jeff Mugerian became a driver in March. He was urged to enroll by his 20-year-old son Sean, a college student who serves in the army reserves.
“My Dad was in the Army during World War II and my father-in-law was in World War II, but I never served,” says Mugerian. “I wanted to do something, so Sean urged me to get involved. How else could I serve at 51 years old and 50 pounds overweight?”
He’s glad he did.
“I love talking with these veterans, both men and women,” says Mugerian. “They have great stories and I just love them. Most are so gracious, so grateful for this service that helps them get to their appointments. I’m so blessed to discover this opportunity. I’m thrilled to do it.”
For a typical run to Detroit, Mugerian rises at 3:30 a.m. to get to the veteran’s clinic in Traverse City where the transportation van is parked. He leaves there at 4:30 to begin picking up veterans. Some have appointments in Saginaw, others may have appointments beginning at 9 a.m. in Motown. Depending on the vet’s appointment times, Mugerian usually gets home by 8 p.m.
On one recent run, Mugerian drove to Grayling in the early evening to pick up three area veterans who had been in Saginaw for appointments. Another driver brought them north to Grayling and Mugerian went there to pick them up, dropping one in Kalkaska and two to TC.
One Air Force vet had been in Saginaw for two weeks undergoing therapy following a hip transplant. Two others, both U.S. Army Vietnam vets, had gone down at 5 a.m. the same day for appointments. Both endured 14- hour-days to get treated.
“It’s a shame that some of these guys have to spend 12 or 14 hours on the road for a 30-minute eye exam,” says Mugerian. “That’s just not right. It’s hard to believe they can’t be treated locally for something like that. My heart just aches for these guys.”
To learn more or to volunteer, call Leffler at (231) 313-9357 or visit gtadav.us.