CHARLESTON, W.Va. - In 2011, van drivers for the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Huntington traveled 802,115 miles and took 20,706 veterans to and from medical appointments.
That accounts for only one of the state's four VA hospitals and a portion of the Veterans Transportation Program, said Keith Gwinn, secretary of the state Department of Veterans Assistance.
"If they stopped that, a lot of veterans would be affected," Gwinn said.
Through the program veterans get rides to and from medical appointments. Home pick-up is available for those who need it, Gwinn said, although many use a central pick-up location.
Those who lack transportation get it, and others save on the cost of travel, he said.
The vans will take people to appointments locally or as far away as Lexington, Ky., or Pittsburgh, Gwinn said.
Linda Markham, chief of voluntary services at the Huntington VA hospital, said a van travels from Huntington to Charleston every day of the week. Most of the vans carry about seven passengers, with annual training required for drivers, she said.
"I think the veterans truly appreciate what we have to offer," Markham said.
A recent request for all state agencies to reduce their budgets for the next budget year will affect the program, but Gwinn said the department is looking at other cost-saving measures.
In August Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin asked every state agency to reduce its budget by 7.5 percent for the fiscal year that starts next July 1. Gwinn said that translates to a $358,000 total cut, with $100,000 coming from the transportation program.
That amount is coming from an allotted $150,000 that goes entirely toward purchasing new vans, Gwinn said. There are currently 52 vans in use, and the department expects to purchase 17 more in the next 10 months.