Stanislaus van service delivers vets to health care

03/17/2014 5:32 PM

03/17/2014 7:43 PM

Respect flows both ways when Joe Madden drives aging and ailing military veterans to Bay Area clinics.

“If they don’t make their appointments, they just stay home and die,” said Madden, a 75-year-old veteran himself. “When we come and take them, they act like we’ve saved their lives.”

For five years, Madden used his own car and gas to cart others, often older, to Department of Veterans Affairs clinics in Livermore and Palo Alto.

Homebound patients generally are too frail to withstand all-day trips provided by Stanislaus County and the VA outpatient clinic in Modesto, but not sick enough for very costly ambulance rides, so he stepped in and filled the gap.

A year ago, a joint effort by local and federal agencies provided relief by coming up with donations of two vans, and the VA began covering fuel and repair costs. Madden recruited his brother, Richard, and a woman to spell him at the wheel, but the program could use a fresh infusion of volunteers to help schedule appointments, drive or just ride with patients, assisting them in crowded and confusing clinic corridors.

Unlike shuttles providing curb-to-curb service, the newly named Stanislaus Veterans Medical Transport Program gives door-through-door assistance to people needing extra care.

“These are really good-hearted guys,” Mike Carlson of Merced said of the Madden brothers. “They’ve got a love for what they do and they deserve a lot of recognition.”

Carlson had reached a point at which he no longer could load his mother, Margery, a 90-year-old World War II veteran and Modesto resident, into a car for doctor appointments. The Stanislaus Veterans Medical Transport Program has been a godsend, even giving her a recent ride home from a Modesto hospital on a moment’s notice, Mike Carlson said.

“They always come through for me, and they’re always happy to help,” he said.

Throughout the county, about 80 veterans are eligible for the special transport service, including 94-year-old Charles Perrien of Turlock.

He was one of the last horse soldiers serving in the Army’s 1st Cavalry 7th Regiment patrolling the Mexican border before shipping out to the Pacific Theater in World War II.

“He’s a nice guy, real thoughtful,” Perrien said of Joe Madden, who served with the Air Force in Korea shortly after the war there.

The transport service transformed from a one-man operation after Madden became an inaugural member of the county’s Veterans Advisory Commission, established in 2012 mostly to suggest options to county supervisors regarding facilities for veterans groups. Collaborating with the commission on the transport service are the county’s Department of Aging and Veterans Services, the Consolidated Transportation Services Agency, the VA clinic and U.S. Rep. Jeff Denham, who helped secure the vans last year.

Madden will appear Wednesday at a public ceremony celebrating the transport service, staged by the Stanislaus Council of Governments, a regional transportation planning agency.

“We want to pay tribute to the individuals who saw a critical need in our community and did something about it,” StanCOG Executive Director Carlos Yamzon said.

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