Patients at the VA Medical Center in Marion may soon find it a little easier to catch a ride to the hospital, as the Ford Motor Co. recently donated two new vehicles for use in the Disabled American Veterans' volunteer transportation network.
Officials from the Department of Veterans Affairs, local Ford dealers and statewide DAV chapters gathered at Marion Ford in Marion and Vogler Ford in Carbondale Monday to dedicate two new vehicles donated to the program, which regularly serves about a quarter of the patients at the Marion VAMC.
"We're more than happy to provide the health care, but it's a lot more than that," said Paul Bockelman, director of the medical center. "It's a partnership with the community and organizations like DAV; this is what it takes to take care of our veterans."
One new Ford passenger van was donated to the Illinois DAV and one new Ford Explorer SUV was given to the Indiana DAV, both of which serve patients in the Marion medical center's network. About 150 volunteer DAV members in the tri-state area regularly help drive more than 10,000 veterans to appointments at the hospital, Bockelman said.
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"We are sure glad to have the opportunity with this transportation network to get folks safely to their healthcare," Bockelman said.
The Ford dealerships in Marion and Carbondale offered food and refreshments to veterans attending the ceremonies, which included a presentation of vehicle titles and keys to the commanders of the Illinois and Indiana DAV organizations.
Johnnie Baylark, Illinois DAV Commander, attended the ceremony on behalf of the entire Illinois organization.
"This generous gift has reflected the Ford Motor Company's continuous commitment to the veterans," Baylark said. "From the start, they have always shown great interest in the DAV's mission of service and transportation for our veterans."
Representatives from the Ford dealerships participated as well, speaking on the motor company's behalf.
"Marion Ford is privileged to be a part of this event and to be a part of Ford, who's done so much for the DAV, the VA and the veterans," said Brad Poole, General Manager at Marion Ford. "It's something Ford takes great pride in and we do as an organization."
In Carbondale, Vogler Ford Owner and Manager Dennis Rathjen, a veteran, spoke for the company.
"There are several of us at Vogler who are veterans and anything we can do to help the Marion VAMC and the DAV, we whole-heartedly support," Rathjen said.
Since 1996, the Ford Motor Company has donated 148 vans, worth more than $3.5 million, to the DAV Transportation Network. The donation of the two vehicles to DAV of Illinois and Indiana was part of a larger 2010 initiative to purchase a total of seven new vehicles for the service.