By DENISE GRANT
Hancock County veterans who need help with transportation to the Columbus or Dayton veterans hospitals will soon be able to catch a ride.
Nichole Coleman, executive director of the Hancock County Veterans Service Office, said the agency hopes to expand its transportation program in the new year. Test runs to Columbus and Dayton will be held for at least six months.
Veterans who need this service are being urged to call the office at 419-424-7408 and sign up. Whether the new routes continue will be based on need, Coleman said.
The office currently transports veterans to a government hospital in Ann Arbor, Mich., and a clinic in Toledo. Vans run to Toledo on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and to Ann Arbor on Thursday and Friday.
During a November meeting of the Ohio State Association of Veterans Service Commissioners, Coleman said she heard officials from other counties talking about transporting to more than one hospital.
“No one could really tell me why we only transported to Ann Arbor,” she said.
Beginning this week, a route will be established for the Dayton hospital on Mondays, and its Lima clinic on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
Runs to the Columbus hospital and its Marion clinic are expected to begin in February, with the date to be announced. Transportation will be given on Friday to Columbus, and on Wednesdays and Thursdays to Marion.
Coleman called it a “pretty significant change.”
“I’m pretty excited about it,” she said.
Coleman anticipates more changes in 2014 for the office.
Since she was named director in 2012, the number of veterans served by the office has doubled. To accommodate the growth, additional staff has been hired and the office has moved to a bigger space, Suite 123 in the Riverside Building, 1100 E. Main Cross St.
Coleman is assisted by Anette Peterman, office manager.
The new staff includes former Findlay Mayor Pete Senhert, who works as a veterans benefits counselor and investigator for the office. Kyle Frias works as a veterans service officer, like Coleman, and is considered a director in training.
A transportation manager, Jack Oakman, was hired in the summer to oversee drivers. Drivers include Don Bair, Denny Moore, Paul Thompson and Ron Beuttenmuller.
Larry Sudlow, a former McComb councilman and mayor, will become a Veterans Service commissioner in 2014. Sudlow was recently appointed to the position by Hancock County Common Pleas Judges Joseph Niemeyer and Reginald Routson. He will represent the Korean War Veterans Association and the Purple Heart Association on the commission, taking the place of Robert Wilson.
Other commission members are Robert Essinger, representing American Legion; Charles Smith, Veterans of Foreign Wars; Sandra Conley, AMVETS; and Roger Neff, Disabled American Veterans.
The Veterans Service Office advises and assists veterans and their families in seeking benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and provides other benefits. The office also makes picture identification cards for veterans.
Coleman plans for the office to begin offering informal sessions at local coffee shops in 2014 to speak with veterans, and to begin participating in the Veterans History Project being organized by the Library of Congress.
To learn more about the project, visit the website at www.loc.gov/vets.
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