Opinion Columns & Blogs

Many angels swoop in to help save vets' shuttle

Here’s some excellent news to muse while enjoying your morning cuppa coffee: The Veterans Express, the shuttle service that helps our vets get to VA appointments in Santa Barbara and Los Angeles, has been funded for another year, courtesy of a semi-anonymous angel.

The shuttle — overseen by Ride-On Transportation — was veering toward extinction as of June 30 if $26,000 in operating costs couldn’t be found. Well, it’s July 1, and the shuttle is funded.

The short story is that a gentleman named Dell — a Central Valley resident who has a home and a couple of sons living in San Luis Obispo — heard about the shuttle’s plight while on a visit to the area.

According to Mark Shaffer, executive director of Ride-On, Dell — a Vietnam vet — immediately pledged $26,000 and then “came in the next day and cut a check for $10,000.”

I’ll take a moment for that to sink in, then ask: Do adjectives like “wonderful” and “amazing” fall short in doing justice to Dell’s generosity? And yet this angel’s contribution is just part of the story; there are many other angels out there.

Consider Donna Donovan, a proud member of the San Luis Obispo Elks Lodge No. 322. Donna and her benevolent brothers and sisters have been supporting the shuttle since 2007, taking up monthly collections that now total $1,851.73.

Consider, too, 9-year-old Hannah Amador, who donated all of her pennies totaling $4.47 to the veterans shuttle.

Or Jim Neil, who donated $50 in the memory of Chuck Piper, the Elks’ previous services chairman. The Santa Maria Elks are now also considering funding the shuttle.

Ride-On’s Shaffer adds that a “gentleman with the Boy Scouts is creating a committee to raise funds, with its first meeting to be held this week.” Another gentleman is donating $100 a month for a year on his MasterCard. (Ride-On is working on a homepage for online giving. It should be up and running this month.)

And let’s not forget Greg Shearer, who’s been carrying a disproportionate load in keeping the service funded with annual fundraisers since 2005. Shearer is planning yet another round of golf and poker tournaments and a barbecue on Veterans Day, with all the proceeds going to the shuttle.And then there’s Ron Waltman.

Last August, I wrote about veteran John De Sousa, who, through a series of governmental Kafkaesque contortions, found that although he’d served his country honorably in the military, he wasn’t an American citizen.

Waltman, who’s the commander of American Legion Post 432 in Cambria, kicked the issue in the slats by rallying as many legion posts as he could find to petition Rep. Lois Capps on De Sousa’s behalf. They were successful, and De Sousa’s citizenship was expedited.

Waltman and Post 432 have now directed their resources toward Capps in finding permanent federal funding for the shuttle.

In a letter dated June 25, Waltman wrote to Capps, saying in part: “This seems like a familiar song. Our veterans sacrifice for all of us, but when the time comes that they need help, our government says there is some bureaucratic glitch that prevents them from doing the right thing. We are asking you to cut the red tape. The VA has funds for veteran transportation expenses. Many of our aging veterans are not able to get from San Luis Obispo to Santa Maria without the critically provided assistance from Ride-On ... You need to find a way that the VA can reimburse Ride-On for this service.”

Ride-On’s Shaffer says he and others will be meeting with representatives for Capps and Rep. Kevin McCarthy this month to get the VA to participate “so we won’t be in this same spot next year.”

And as to the congressional excuse that the VA can’t interface with Ride-On, well, that’s simply a canard.

“We’re considered part of a government entity (Consolidated Transportation Services),” Shaffer says. “We have exempt license plates, for God’s sake.”

As to future federal funding for a service that our country OWES to those who went into harm’s way, here’s a note to Reps. Capps and McCarthy: $26,000 is roughly what the government spends in 1 minute, 10 seconds, according to usdebtclock.org. Must this vital service depend on the good graces of a child and her cache of pennies to survive?

I didn’t think so, either.

Bill Morem can be reached at bmorem@thetribunenews.com or 781-7852.