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DAV official: Patients will still have transportation to VA hospital

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MASSENA - St. Lawrence County veterans should have no worries about receiving the transportation they need for their medical appointments in Syracuse, according to an official from the regional Disabled American Veterans office in Syracuse.

“Patients are still going to have the transportation required to get them to their appointments,” DAV Transportation Hospital Service Coordinator Andrew T. Newcomb said.

Mr. Newcomb is responsible for overseeing veteran transportation for Central and Northern New York, and he said rules requiring drivers to pick up veterans were in place long before he was involved with the agency.

“That has apparently always been a requirement,” Mr. Newcomb said. “That has been a policy long before me. They were just pretty much letting Massena run their own operation.”

Massena DAV Commander 171 Edward Gebeault said the matter isn’t as simple as Mr. Newcomb makes it out to be.

The issue has arisen now that drivers in Massena are being asked to adhere to the organization’s long-standing rules, leading several of Massena’s drivers to quit and local veterans to fear they’ll no longer have the transportation they need.

“Regardless of the rule, he doesn’t understand the area of St. Lawrence County and the ruralness of it,” Mr. Gebeault said. “He needs to come up here and ride our bus for a day to see the hours we put it.”

Should Massena ultimately be forced to adere to the rules, buses would have to leave here at 1:30 in the morning to get to Syracuse for 8 a.m., Mr. Gebeault said.

“We could have to pick some up in Helena and then have to go to Norfolk or Stockholm,” he said, adding as it is nowthe bus leaves at 4:30 a.m. and often times doesn’t leave Syracuse until late in the afternoon.

“Most of our drivers are over 70, and it’s a long day for them. It’s a long day for anybody,” Mr. Gebeault said.

Mr. Newcomb, who did not dispute that some of Massena’s drivers may no longer be volunteering their services, said the need for drivers is not new.

“We always need drivers,” he said, explaining that picking veterans up at their home in an important part of the DAV’s mission.

“We have to adopt to the changing needs of our veterans. If we can’t do that, we’re failing them,” he said. “A lot of them are older and have transportation issues. Not everyone can make it to central pick-up points and that’s why we pick them up at their homes.”

That point made by Mr. Newcomb is null and void, according to Mr. Gebeault, who explained their DAV van is not handicap accesible.

“If they can’t make it to the central pick-up point, there isn’t much we can do for them,” he said.

Despite the spat between Massena’s DAV branch and the office in Syracuse, Mr. Newcomb said veterans have nothing to worry about.

“I don’t want patients to be afraid that they won’t make their appointments,” he said.

Mr. Gebeault said he just doesn’t understand why the practices of his post have become an issue all of a sudden, although he knows who is to blame.

“Things have been going smooth up here for 10 or 15 years, but once or twice a year they get someone new down there who wants to change things,” he said, adding, “You don’t fix what’s not broken.”

Making matters worse for Mr. Gebeault and the other volunteers involved, many of whom are veterans themselves, is Mr. Gebeualt’s belief that Mr. Newcomb isn’t a veteran.

“This guy isn’t even a veteran. I don’t know where the hell he came from. He’s just some spoiled kid out of college that they gave a job to,” Mr. Gebeault said. “I haven’t met him yet, but I’m looking forward to it.”

Anyone interested in becoming a driver for the DAV should contact John Alexander at 769-3028. Interested volunteers will then be scheduled for a physical, which they must pass before they can begin transporting patients.

And while the drive from Massena to Syracuse may not be an easy one, Mr. Newcomb said the V.A. Hospital in Syracuse offers space to drivers for them to relax and even take naps while veterans are being seen by health care providers.

“We have beds available to them on the ninth floor,” he said. “They can take a nap, or they can go as far as sleeping the whole time their patients are in appointments.”

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