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Drivers needed to take disabled veterans to medical appointments

November 01, 2001|By JENNIFER RALTON-SMITH, Staff Writer
  • Andy Dufresne (left) and Francisco Flores are shown with the van used to transport disabled veterans to doctors' appointments in San Diego. CUAUHTEMOC BELTRAN PHOTO

They've got more than 70 years of combined military service and they served their country with pride.

And they're still serving their country and fellow veterans many years after leaving the service.

Don Vaughn, Dean Peugh and Andy Dufresne are the driving force behind the Disabled American Veterans transport van operating in the Imperial Valley.

But they've got a problem — they urgently need a few good men and women to join them in transporting veterans to the Veterans Administration Hospital in San Diego for medical appointments.

"We're in real danger of losing our van and the ability to get our veterans to their appointments if we don't get at least five new volunteers to help with the driving," Vaughn said Wednesday.

Vaughn, veterans' services officer with Imperial County, described the need for new volunteers as being extremely urgent.

"The transportation coordinator for (Disabled American Veterans), Shirley Wilson, came out from San Diego on Oct. 17 and said she had come to discuss taking our van … that we did not have the drivers needed to maintain the van."


There are about 7,600 veterans in the Imperial Valley and Vaughn is hopeful he can encourage just a few of those vets or other members of the public to sign up as volunteer drivers.

"Right now we're basically down to two drivers, both of them over the age of 80," he said.

The service has been in place for 10 years and uses a van donated by the Ford Motor Co.

Before the van came online, veterans had to ride the Greyhound bus from El Centro and change to a city bus for the ride out to the VA Hospital in La Jolla.

Vaughn said he is concerned that veterans, some in frail health, will be faced with the same arduous trip by public bus again if his group loses operating rights to the van.

Normally the van runs five days a week to San Diego, taking veterans from Imperial Valley. It also stops along the way in Seeley, Ocotillo, Jacumba and Descanso to pick up other veterans.

Typically the service transports some 120 veterans a month and the van, although less than 3 years old, has racked up 174,000 miles making life a little easier for veterans. Ford has pledged to replace the van with a new model in January.

"For the moment we're being allowed to keep our van but we've really had to scramble to keep it on the road," Vaughn said.

For those who are interested in being part of the solution, all you need is a valid California driver's license, insurance and a desire to help those who have served their country.

If you're willing to help, contact Dufresne on 352-2647.

Vaughn stressed that the service is still going and veterans needing a ride to medical appointments in San Diego should contact Kellie Diaz on 348-2689.

Staff Writer Jennifer Ralton-Smith can be reached at 337-3442 or

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