PUBLISHED JUNE 30, 2016
By LOIS KINDLE
Although it’s been operational for about a year, the DAV office in Sun City Center is still a mystery to many South Shore veterans. Staffed by members of the Disabled American Veterans Chapter 110, the office at 1002 Cherry Hills Drive offers critical support to American veterans and their spouses who live in Apollo Beach, Balm, Gibsonton, Riverview, Ruskin, Wimauma and Sun City Center. Although its van service is limited to transporting disabled veterans to appointments at the James A. Haley Veterans Administration Hospital in Tampa, it also assists any veteran, whether disabled or not, with filing VA claims of any kind.
“The community has a pretty short memory so it’s important for us to remind them that we are here and available to help,” said Jim Katz, chapter adjutant.
“Our free van service offers pickups by appointment at Sun Towers, the Kings Point North Clubhouse and the library; the Ruskin Post Office; and the Gibsonton Walmart bus stop,” he continued. “Appointments need to be made in advance and must be mornings only. The VA Hospital is good about making those appointments when veterans tell them they’re ‘riding in the van’.”
A volunteer dispatcher takes reservations, which are required at least seven days in advance of a medical appointment, for the DAV van and coordinates its travels Monday through Friday. The dispatcher makes out a schedule for the volunteer driver each day to ensure all appointments are met. The day starts at 6:45 a.m.
Appointments for filing assistance are available Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Walk-ins are welcome on a first-come, first-served basis.
“When people come here for service, they fill out an application,” said Jim Schwartz, chapter commander. “We help file disability claims for those who have never applied for them and veterans who need to make additional claims or request an increase in benefits.”
For example, he said, a veteran with diabetes may get peripheral neuropathy or become blind and need more financial assistance.
“We do a lot of claims for surviving spouses, as well, Schwartz said. “And we help people apply for death benefits.”
“The only thing we don’t do is VA home mortgages,” Katz added. “We basically handle health-care enrollment and death benefits.”
Both men invited area residents to learn more.
“A lot of people really don’t understand what they’re entitled to or how to get it,” Schwartz said. “We help them navigate the system and there is no charge. Services are available to any veteran regardless of where they live.”
The DAV office currently is in “desperate need of volunteer drivers and dispatchers,” Katz said.
Drivers can transport disabled veterans as little as one morning per month, specific days of the week or essentially whenever they’re available. Considered volunteers by the Veterans Administration, they receive a chit (voucher) for a free breakfast whenever they work.
They must be 18 years old or older and have a good driving record. Both men and women are welcome.
Additional dispatchers are also needed. They receive a cell phone with voice mail, a laptop computer and printer, if needed, to respond to calls and confirm van availability; schedule van rides and print out the schedule once a week; and then place the schedule in the van for the driver.
“They check their voice mails daily and return calls at their earliest convenience,” Katz said.
To schedule an office visit, or for more information, call 813-331-3871 during hours of operation. To schedule a van ride, call 813-642-0302.
For more information on the Disabled American Veterans, visit www.dav.org.