Transportation is now available for Carbon County veterans who need to get to the VA Medical Center in Wilkes-Barre.

Henry Desrosiers, Carbon County's director of veterans affairs, announced that the county has a 12-passenger van to transport veterans from Jim Thorpe to Wilkes-Barre for their appointments. The transportation is free to all veterans.

Currently, the van operates Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and leaves at 8 a.m. from the Jim Thorpe Memorial Hall rear parking lot, located by the skating rink entrance on 10th Street.

Transportation routes and operational days may be extended to other locations at a later time, pending the veterans' needs.

Veterans who would like to schedule van service, must call the scheduling department at the VA Medical Center at (877) 928-2621 ext. 5990, (570) 824-3521 ext. 5990 or their primary care doctor to make an appointment. All appointments must be scheduled between 10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. The county will then be notified through the medical center that van service is needed.

Desrosiers noted that transportation requests cannot be accepted through the county veterans affairs office.

On Wednesday, he showed the van to the county commissioners.

Commissioner William O'Gurek, chairman, thanked Desrosiers for his hard work and dedication to the veterans in the county.

"It's obvious we have a veterans affairs director who jumped right in and worked hard to get Carbon County the resources we needed to better serve our veterans," O'Gurek said. "I am delighted that we are able to provide services to our veterans. It has been a long-standing tradition in this county to care for our veterans and I hope we can continue to do this for a long, long time."

Commissioners Charles Getz and Wayne Nothstein echoed O'Gurek's thoughts, thanking Desrosiers and the volunteer drivers for their service to the county and its veterans.

"It is certainly nice to be able to have this for our veterans," Getz said. "They deserve this."

Nothstein said, "Transportation has been an issue for many years. I'm happy that we finally were able to secure a van."

He noted that in recent years, a strong movement to make sure veterans are taken care of has occurred in Pennsylvania. A Veterans Task Force was established on the state level and is currently working on ways to better care for veterans because times have changed and new medical problems are occurring.

Desrosiers also thanked the commissioners for their support because without a unified county government, the project or the success he is having with helping the county's veterans wouldn't be possible.

The van project began in February 2008, after Desrosiers realized that transportation for veterans was an issue in the county.

He set out to rectify that problem by being the voice for the veterans in need of transportation to their medical visits.

After numerous phone calls and letters to the Disabled American Veterans, as well as conversations with Brigadier General Michael G. Gould, deputy adjutant general of the Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, Desrosiers learned in April that there was a van available for the county.

At that time, Desrosiers asked the community for volunteer drivers who would be willing to drive the van to Wilkes-Barre when needed.

Currently, six volunteer drivers went through the three- to four-month process and are certified through the Disabled American Veterans. They will be called after a transportation request is made.

Bill Womack, who is a veteran and also a certified volunteer driver for the county, was on hand Wednesday to see the van that he will be driving.

He said he was happy for the opportunity to give back to his fellow veterans.

"I see veterans being left behind a lot," Womack said. "I think they should be supported more. That's why I chose to become a driver."

For more information on becoming a volunteer driver, call the Carbon County Veterans Affairs office at (570) 325-3986 between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.