Local veterans requiring assistance in getting back and forth to vital medical appointments received a welcome boost earlier this year, when a brand new custom transport van arrived at the Ripley County Veterans Service Office from Kansas City.

With an aging 1-ton chassis van (carrying an odometer reading of over 200,000 miles) already in commission, the office increased veterans’ comfort level by adding a 2017 half-ton Ford Transit T-150 to the fleet. Through a collaborative fundraising effort featuring the work and donations of several area organizations and individuals, the all-important transporting duties will now run all the more smoothly.

“This has worked out really well for us,” confirmed county Veterans Service Officer Ken Hylton, going on his 12th year in his Versailles post. “Everyone’s been pleased with how comfortable it is … it doesn’t ride like an old truck like our older van.”

Hylton was initially approached by Vergie Sharp, New Point, whose project with the Knights of Columbus had fallen through at the time, providing an opening on her calendar to shift fundraising gears.

Together with Rita Seig, Sunman, Sharp put the wheels in motion toward the county’s new purchase; her newly-formed committee was just a start.

“They worked in conjunction with the Veterans Memorial Committee of Ripley County and, once we got things started, notification got out with people in the community paying attention to our need for funds,” explained Hylton.

The total cost for the white, special-ordered vehicle was shaping up to be in the neighborhood of $28,000-$29,000, a price tag that sought the help of grant applications.

For that process, the group turned to the county commissioners, whose nonprofit status was necessary to initiate the applications and ultimately secure ownership.

The largest chunk came via a $26,000-plus grant from the Tyson Fund, Versailles. Another grant, secured through the Ripley County Community Foundation, was facilitated by RCCF executive director Amy Streator.

After other organizations and individuals stepped up as donors, funding was completed in February and the new arrival came in early spring.

Despite its newness, there’s one asset missing from the customized model, which makes the van dependent on its predecessor for an overall efficient operation.

“The new van has no wheelchair lift or special handicap features, so the older model is still utilized mainly to assist with our veterans in wheelchairs,” Hylton offered. “Also, if we have two different veterans scheduled for different locations on the same day, then it’s helpful to have both vans to use.”

The vehicles are currently being driven three times a week on average, according to him, and make their most frequent round trips to Veterans Administration facilities in Greendale; Cincinnati; and Florence, Kentucky. On rarer occasions, rides are requested to medical centers in Indianapolis and Louisville.

The two-vehicle effort also serves to provide plenty of space for the veterans and loved ones riding along for support.

“In most cases, we have just one person going at a time, but may have up to three along with wives or family members,” the officer noted. “We’ve never had full capacity, but the new van is seven-passenger, so we have room if necessary.”

Regular service calls and fuel costs for the new ride will be funded through the VSO’s annual budget.

Hylton wished to give special mention to several entities (beyond those previously named) as well as individual donors too numerous to name. Those include area American Legion posts; the Keene-Henneke Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9987, Napoleon; VFW Post 267; and Struckman Ford, Osgood; Jonas Monuments, Harrison, Ohio; and Signs by Meyer, Greensburg, for various decals adorning the van’s exterior.

The Ripley County Veterans Service Office, operated by Hylton and Assistant Service Officer Candice Tuller, is located in the Ripley County Annex, 102 W. First North St., Versailles. It is open weekdays from 8 a.m.-noon and 1-4 p.m. The phone number is 812-689-7165.

Will Fehlinger can be contacted at sports@batesvilleheraldtribune.com or 812-934-4343, Ext. 112.

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