June 10, 2019
Commander Jack Shoults, Disabled Vets of Polk County Chapter 160: “We worked diligently to obtain a transportation van to take people to James A. Haley in Tampa.”
Veterans in Polk County now have a new way to reach appointments at James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital in Tampa. And courtesy of a partnership between the Tampa VA and the Disabled American Veterans Polk County chapter, the service is free.
Jack Shoults, 70, and his wife, Donna, helped start the bus service.
Shoults is a member of the Disabled Vets of Polk County Chapter 160, which is only three years old.
“We worked diligently to obtain a transportation van to take people to James A. Haley in Tampa,” said Shoults, a Vietnam veteran and the chapter’s current commander.
The DAV helps veterans with a number of things, he said. Their current office is located at the Lake Wales Care Center at 140 Park Street.
Among the many things the DAV does is help veterans file their disability claims. They gather the initial claims papers and the local chapter then files them with the state DAV.
“And they take it from there,” he said.
Shoults said that because there are nearly 20,000 disabled veterans in Polk County, early on, it seemed that there was an indication that transportation to James A. Haley was needed.
A DAV chapter in Tampa donated a 10-passenger Ford van to the hospital, and the hospital assigned it to the Polk County chapter.
“If the veteran has an appointment at the Tampa VA and they call us for a ride, we give them a ride to their appointment, and it is absolutely free,” he said.
The Polk County chapter sent out postcards to area veterans about the bus, but hasn’t received the response they were hoping for.
All drivers of the van are certified, he said. The van is parked at the VFW in Lake Wales at 400 W. Central Avenue.
Pickup points are as follows: in Bartow, the parking lot behind the new Hardee’s on Highway 60; in Mulberry, the Hardee’s parking lot on Highway 60; and in Lake Wales, the pickup spot is at the VFW.
Plant City is on the list. A site will be announced for that pickup.
The van isn’t handicap-accessible, Shoults said, so the service is for veterans who are ambulatory. And veterans don’t have to be a member of the DAV to get assistance, he added.
The van leaves early in the morning. All vets who ride the van are encouraged to get their appointments in Tampa set for between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m.
The hospital takes care of all expenses for the van, including insurance and gas.
Joe Johnston, past commander of the National DAV, serves as a current member of the DAV board of directors and the national foundation. A combat veteran from Vietnam and the first Persian Gulf War, he moved to Winter Haven three years ago.
Johnston said serving in the DAV is a passion for him.
The bus service, he said, is always free for veterans across the United States. Polk County DAV has only had its bus three months.
“There are a lot of folks that really rely on a transportation system to get to and from the VA,” he said.
As young as the Polk County chapter is, he said the fact they have already been able to acquire a van is “pretty remarkable in itself.”
“It is certainly going to be a needed service there in Polk County,” he said.
There is no limitation, he said, on how often a veteran uses the bus service.
“Right now our limitation is finding people to get connected to the service and getting additional drivers to volunteer,” Johnston said. Those who are retired and want to help are encouraged to contact the Polk County chapter.
The United States Congress created the non-profit Disabled American Veterans organization to help disabled U.S. Armed forces veterans and their families.
For more information on the bus service, either to ride the bus or volunteer as a driver, call Shoults at 863-589-5786.
Chairman, Polk County Veterans Council
Box 3911, Lakeland, Florida 33802