ABBEVILLE — Veterans have a ticket to ride.
All they have to do is make a call and the Horace Burnett Vets Van can be available.
Transportation is on the forefront as United Christian Ministries of Abbeville County presented results of a survey about a public transportation system to the Abbeville County Council.
Veterans’ needs prompted interest in a vehicle in 2017, according to Terry Greenfield of Abbeville Post 2 of the American Legion. The Abbeville Veterans Memorial Foundation is the coordinator of the transportation system, he said.
Greenfield recalled talking in 2017 with then-county manager David Porter about transportation needs for veterans. He was looking into buying a used van for the VA center. Then, he got in touch with Horace Burnett, a Korean War veteran and businessman, about what he was doing. Greenfield said three days later, Burnett called to say “I got your van for you.” Instead of a used vehicle, it was a new 2017 Ford 10-passenger van.
“It was a godsend to get that,” Greenfield said.
The van is used for veterans who need medical care, to take homeless veterans to a shelter in Augusta and to transport veterans to Clemson to get licenses, he said. It’s also occasionally used by veterans groups for outings.
So far in April, the van was used to take a veteran to a medical center for an eye appointment, Greenfield said. He hadn’t been able to go for a year because of COVID-19. Another veteran traveled to Greenville for a COVID shot, he said. On April 16, the van transported a veteran to get a prescription filled.
Veterans probably use the van once a week, but usage has picked up in the last three months. Once word got out about the van, the Foundation has gotten more requests, he said.
It took a while to get word out about the service, nearly 1-1/2 years, Greenfield said. Use was good in 2019. In 2020, COVID-19 hit.
Veterans must give at least two days of a need for transport; seven days’ notice is preferred. Veterans must be mobile, but they can have a family or friend travel with them.
Eligible veterans include honorably discharged Abbeville County residents. No alcohol, smoking or disruptive behavior is allowed. For information, call the local VA office at 864-366-2608 or 864-377-9053.
Other options for veterans exist. Greenfield said Disabled Americans Veterans slowed operations because of COVID, so local organizations “picked up the slack.” Various groups are getting back into business.
Up to seven volunteer drivers use the van, Greenfield said. The Foundation takes donations to keep the van working. Sponsors’ names are emblazoned on the back window. They include Red Bowl Asian Bistro in Greenwood, Carquest of Greenwood. Commercial Printing, Tight’s Barber Shop, Dependable Auto Care, all of Abbeville.
Burnett is another sponsor. A picture of him in his service uniform from the Korean War is emblazoned on the side of the van. Included with the image are stickers of two Purple Heart medals. Greenfield said veterans put the medals on his picture to represent a broken neck and a broken back Burnett suffered. In one instance, he was flung through the air when a grenade exploded nearby. In another, he fell down an embankment.
Burnett served in one of the all-Black units that was desegregated during the Korean War, Greenfield said.
Even the van’s formal name reflects Burnett’s contribution: the Horace Burnett Vets Van.
The biggest expense is insurance. Veterans can pay, although Greenfield said the Foundation doesn’t charge for trips. The Foundation also has fundraisers.
People also occasionally drive their own vehicles to transport veterans if the van is not available because of scheduling issues, he said.
Support doesn’t stop there. Greenfield said the American Legion post got a metal shelter for the van after a Vietnam veteran expressed concern about the van being left exposed to the weather. Greenwood said he talked about the idea later and the veteran said “I’ve taken care of it.”
“We’re blessed in Abbeville,” he said. People take care to help out.
The van is meant for the Abbeville community, in accordance with Burnett’s wishes. Greenfield said some people from Greenwood have expressed an interest in using the van, but the distance is too long. There are no plans to obtain a second van.