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CONNIE SWINNEY • PICAYUNE STAFF

GRANITE SHOALS — A string of donations has breathed new life into a transportation program that helps veterans gain access to medical care and services.Burnet County VetRides, a charitable service, assists honorably discharged veterans with transportation to and from medical facilities and services, including area VA hospitals, diagnostic centers and pharmacies.

“This service is most important to veterans in this area, otherwise, they’re not going to get to their doctor’s appointments, and they won’t get the treatment that they need to be as independent as they can,” program manager Sophie McCoy said.

Burnet County VetRides began in 2010 with seed money from the Texas Veterans Commission. In 2012, the program received $100,000 in grant funding from the commission. The state denied renewal of the grant funding in 2013, officials said.

To adjust for the loss in money, coordinators launched a local fundraising effort, reduced the group’s fleet from four to three vans and opted for volunteers instead of paid drivers, McCoy said.

“Now, the money is going towards gas or any car repairs. Without the community support, this program would not be able to continue,” McCoy said. “The $5, the $10, the $1,000, the $5,000 (donations), it’s all so crucial to keep these vans on the road.”

The VetRides program serves about 200 veterans and family members each year. The vans travel round-trip to Austin, Temple, San Antonio and Kerrville.

Recent donations came from The Church at Horseshoe Bay, $5,000; Burnet County Woodsman of the World, $1,500; more than $1,000 from the Daughters of the American Revolution; and vehicle maintenance from Cecil Atkisson Motors and Lee Hoffpauir RV and Truck, both in Burnet.

Even veteran clients, such as 67-year-old Carl Woods, who lives in Granite Shoals, have donated.

He served in the U.S. Army infantry from 1974 to 1980. During his service, he suffered a debilitating injury that crushed his hips. Woods, who is wheelchair-bound and a diabetic, also has been diagnosed with spinal neuropathy.

Despite his financial limitations, Woods donates a few dollars from his disability and veterans’ benefits to the VetRides program.

“It makes me honored knowing we have people who honor the veterans,” he said. “Through VetRides, we’re getting help.”

Clients and volunteers become like family. Woods rekindled his hobby of building model cars after learning a volunteer driver shared the same interest.

“I start working on them. It keeps me from getting depressed,” Woods said.

McCoy, who also is a volunteer driver, transports Woods to VA hospitals in Austin and Temple.

“So many of (the volunteers) are more than just drivers,” she said. “(The veterans) become more than just a rider for us. They become friends; someone we care about.”

Coordinators say they receive
two to four applications for new clients each month. More volunteers and vans are needed.

“Finally, people are realizing that the veterans are needing help,” Woods said. “We helped our country, and now we need help.”

To donate to or volunteer with Burnet County VetRides, call (877) 851-8838 or  (830) 613-9982.

connie@thepicayune.com