COCOA, Fla. (AP) — World War II veteran John Vollario often had to change doctors' appointment, sometimes at the last moment, to match the schedule of someone who could drive him.
That was until earlier this year when he learned about Vets Driving Vets. As its name suggests, the group matches veterans who volunteer their services with other veterans who need rides to doctors' appointments or to take care of other basic needs. The service is free to the veterans.
"It's nice," said 88-year-old Vollario, who lives in Viera. "It's one helping the other."
Vollario, who served in the Navy in the Atlantic and Pacific during World War II, said his niece, who lives in West Melbourne, is willing to drive him when she can, but she works, has a family and often can't break away.
Vollario gave up driving in 1999 because of his poor eyesight. He said that before Vets Driving Vets, he would juggle appointments to match the schedules of whomever could take him to one of fiveproviders he sees regularly.
Connie Emmons, who coordinates the program for Aging Matters Brevard, said the veterans must be ambulatory and capable of getting in and out of the volunteer's vehicle on their own. They must give seven days' notice for transportation requests.
"It started with just a few volunteers," said Jeanne Hakkila-Wills, a vice president at Aging Matters. "Vets tend to be very, very good about helping other veterans."
The program also provides camaraderie between the drivers and riders.
Warren Weld, a retired Air Force chief master sergeant, was one of the first to sign up in February to help drive the veterans.
"When I show up and he sees this card and my VA card, he relaxes," Weld said of the veterans he has driven to appointments. "This was something I could do that fit my schedule."
Weld, 58, who spent 28 years in the Air Force, said he moved to the area about five years ago and has been helping to run a business.
"While I was doing that I thought, 'I'm not doing enough for my veteran friends,' " he said.
Weld said he takes mostly older veterans to their appointments, but wants to also be able to help younger veterans.
Dennis Armstrong, a Vietnam war-era Navy veterans, does his part to help in a different way. He helps to coordinate appointments and rides between the veterans and the volunteer drivers. He volunteers four to five hours twice a week.
"Most of us that are veterans have a soft spot for other veterans," he said.
Armstrong said that those calling needing rides are often anxious but appreciate the support they receive. He tries to put them at ease over the phone and let them know they will have help to get to their appointments.
"You try to develop a rapport with them," he said.
Volunteers must be at least 21, have auto insurance and must submit to a background check and attend a training course. Drivers are reimbursed at the rate of 20 cents per mile.
Aging Matters accepts donations to help offset the cost of the service.
Though the program generally matches younger veteran volunteers with older ones needing rides, it's different with World War II veteran William Cronin. He is 87 years old and is a volunteer driver.
Cronin said he found what he likes doing while searching for something to occupy some of his time. Because he is in good health and has the time, he wanted to help other veterans, he said.
"It's one of the best choices I've made in a long time," said Cronin, who live in Melbourne Beach. "I'm just proud to be able to take these guys wherever they need to go. It makes me feel good to be able to help."
Information from: Florida Today (Melbourne, Fla.), http://www.floridatoday.com