Volunteer-organized rides take veterans to VA clinic


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Ted Firlein, an Air Force veteran, is the transportation coordinator for a volunteer service that takes fellow veterans to medical appointments at the Viera VA Outpatient Clinic.

JENNIFER H. MONAGHAN

The Barefoot Bay Veterans Affairs Transport service to the Viera VA Outpatient Clinic is as valuable today as when it was first organized 17 years ago.

There is one trip daily, with up to seven passengers, Monday to Friday and sometimes Saturday as needed. Twenty volunteer drivers rotate.

“Their only reward is the good feeling,” said Ted Firlein, the transportation coordinator.

In 2003, veterans Richard Pearson and David McAllister proposed to the Viera VA that they and a group of their friends who live in Barefoot Bay would volunteer to transport patients from Barefoot Bay to their scheduled VA appointments. That change reduced VA costs by eliminating one round trip for VA drivers and enhanced flexibility for veterans living in Barefoot Bay.

The VA was amenable and, upon completion of logistics issues within the Veterans Transportation Service, the Barefoot Bay VA Transport was operational. Firlein, who has been involved since the inception, effectively works with patients, drivers and the VA in a managerial, customer service and supportive role to provide a safe and reliable transportation for veterans, and occasionally caregivers.

“It’s sort of, ‘ask not what the VA can do for you, but what can you do for the VA.’ The VA got me through college, they paid most of it,” Firlein said. “I have been treated medically by them; and I feel it’s something I can do not only for the VA, but for fellow vets. Many don’t have a way to get there.”

Firlein left the Air Force as Airman 1st Class after serving five years in Europe and Africa during the Cold War and the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Barefoot Bay service is special in that transportation is provided not only for scheduled appointments, but for walk-ins as well. Moreover, patients can schedule pickup as short as one day in advance. Door-to-door pickup starts at 6 a.m. and returns to the Bay and nearby Sebastian by approximately 1 p.m.

Firlein is thankful to Pearson and the original drivers, all deceased, for the legacy they left behind. “We try to do our best,” he said.