There are over half a million military veterans living in Arizona. This figure places the state among those with the highest concentration of veterans, and thus means Arizona experiences one of the highest needs for volunteers to help those men and women.
Paul Petit is a Vietnam War veteran who spent four years in the Navy. He started using the Disabled American Veterans ride program three years ago when he had a knee replacement operation, and still uses it once or twice a week.
“I’m amazed at how helpful they’ve been,” Petit said. “It’s been wonderful.”
Aside from the rides themselves, Petit says the program also works as a good way to connect with other veterans and share stories.
“It’s almost like having a therapist driving you back and forth,” Petit said. “Most of the time the driver keeps quiet and just lets you talk. And I’ve met many other veterans who feel the same, it seems like they’re just as grateful about the program as me... I’ve even seen some of the grumpier riders get soothed just from the driving.”
Founded in 1920, the Disabled American Veterans charity, or DAV, has helped millions of veterans by providing rides to medical appointments, assisting with benefits claims and forming employment opportunities.
According to its website, the DAV provides nearly 615,000 rides to medical appointments and assists with more than 250,000 benefit claims annually. And, in 2017, DAV helped attain more than $4 billion in new and retroactive benefits to care for veterans.
“They all appreciate the service the DAV provides,” said Ken Maternick, a volunteer DAV driver, “They’re really thankful that we’re there. I’ve even had some guys want to give me a tip or buy me a Coke. Of course, we don’t accept things like that, but it just goes to show how appreciative they are.”
Maternick has been driving veterans to their appointments for over four years, and recently received a badge celebrating 750 hours of driving. He is retired military, and a retired school bus driver, which turns out to be a great combination for driving in Tucson.
“I was looking for places to volunteer, but didn’t want to get involved in something too deep,” Maternick said. “From my time driving a bus, I knew the city really well.”
During his time behind the wheel, Maternick has gotten to know a fair amount of the clientele. Conversations with riders will sometimes even pick up and continue from the last drive.
“Sometimes I’m basically just a listening post,” Maternick said. “But I’ve heard some great stories. While most of the guys are from Vietnam, I’ve even heard some stories from World War Two.”
DAV offers various opportunities for volunteering, but has most recently expressed a need for volunteer drivers. Other charitable contributions include monetary donations, hospital volunteering, donating your vehicle, or working with the Local Veterans Assistance Program.
Maternick generally drives only one day a week, for five or six hours at a time. He says it’s a worthwhile way to spend time, give back and hear some interesting stories.
“All of the drivers are compassionate and considerate individuals who do this on their own time,” Petit said. “They’ve just gone out of their way to be helpful, and I’m tremendously grateful.”
For more information on the Disabled American Veterans charity and volunteering options, visit dav.org. Those interested in volunteer driving may also contact DAV's Tucson office at (520) 629-1822.