The DESERVE Program, a division under the non-profit organization Impact West Georgia, provides free, wheelchair-accessible transportation to all local veterans to and from their medical appointments. Impact West Georgia has implemented a fund-raiser to continue the program.
“Give Up a Cup is an annual campaign where we raise money to keep the DESERVE program going,” said Professor Tiffany Parsons, co-founder of Impact West Georgia. “We provide the transportation. Our large, wheelchair accessible van costs about $5,000 a year just to insure it. Plus gasoline, new tires, oil changes and maintenance, it takes a little bit of money for us to run DESERVE. This year we are working towards moving into all of Douglas, Haralson and Heard county. All veterans in those areas receive healthcare from the Trinka Davis VA Clinic.”
The only way that Impact West Georgia will be able to provide transportation to veterans who live in these counties is by collecting donations through their Give Up a Cup event. For the Give Up a Cup event, Impact West Georgia asks community members to give up a cup of coffee and instead donate that money to DESERVE to keep the program going for the next year. Even if community members can only donate a little bit of money, it is still very meaningful to Impact West Georgia.
“The men and women who chose to serve in the military also made a choice to give up their lives, if necessary,” said Parsons. “The veterans have earned their healthcare.”
The majority of veterans live in rural areas where they do not have access to public transportation. In Carroll county, there are limited taxi services. The taxi services that are available in Carroll county are not handicap or wheelchair accessible. A wheelchair accessible taxi can be extremely expensive, especially if veterans live out on the outskirts of Carroll county. The expenses of having to take a wheelchair accessible taxi to the Trinka Davis VA Clinic are unsustainable, especially if veterans are part of a low-income or needs-based family. Impact West Georgia is attempting to provide a solution to this program with the Deserve program.
“We believe that these men and women have earned their healthcare,” said Parsons. “It’s also about access to healthcare for those who cannot drive because of other reasons. For example, some veterans have suffered health problems like stroke and blindness. So many of our local veterans did not have transportation to their medical appointments before DESERVE began in 2012.”
Every year, Impact West Georgia has increased the number of veterans whom they provide transportation to. The first step in the process was informing veterans that the DESERVE program can provide them with transportation that is completely free of charge; the Trinka Davis VA Clinic helped with this. The drivers who work for Impact West Georgia are volunteers, and they do not accept tips.
“In 2012, we served about 300 veterans,” said Parsons. “In 2013, we served about 600 veterans. The numbers have been getting higher and higher. I think at the last count in 2014, we had well over a thousand veterans. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.”
Currently, there are 20,000 veterans who live within Haralson, Heard, Douglas and Carroll counties. A large percentage of rural veterans suffer from more than one disabling conditions. For these reasons, access to healthcare in this particular region is vitally important