MEDFORD — With the Rogue Valley Medical Center bus route gone, the Veterans Service Office is looking for a few good men and women volunteers to drive veterans to apply for and update medical benefits and get counseling at their office.

MEDFORD — With the Rogue Valley Medical Center bus route gone, the Veterans Service Office is looking for a few good men and women volunteers to drive veterans to apply for and update medical benefits and get counseling at their office.

They only need half a dozen drivers to show up once or twice a week, and it's just a little distance — from the bus terminal on Front Street in downtown Medford out to the VSO office on State Street near Rogue Valley Medical Center, then back to the bus terminal.

Until the Rogue Valley Transportation District route was cut last year as a result of budget shortfalls, veterans were easily able to make the trip. Now, volunteers must drive a county-supplied van.

VSO also is shopping for a veteran volunteer coordinator to work in the office, arranging trips.

To get veterans benefits, veterans must file applications at the VSO office, which is part of the U.S. Veterans Administration, said Bob Huff, a member of the Jackson County Veterans Advisory Committee.

However, lack of knowledge about benefits, eligibility and application procedures is widespread, said Huff, and there are even World War II veterans in the valley who have not opened their files with VSO and started accessing medical, prescription and counseling benefits.

Once their files are started and eligibility established, said Huff, veterans may get services at Southern Oregon Rehabilitation Center and Clinic in White City and, if unable to drive, may get rides supplied by the Dom or take an RVTD bus.

Volunteer drivers may call Huff at 826-4916. Applicants should have a good driving record, free of DUII citations. The drive will involve waiting for the patients, then driving them back to the bus terminal, where they catch a bus home.

The need for volunteers will be going up, Huff added, with the demographic bulge of veterans from the Gulf War and Afghan-Iraq War.

County Veterans Service Officer Marty Kimmel said that without the hospital bus route, some vets can only get as far as the intersection of Barnett and Riverside and have a walk of several miles to get to VSO — especially difficult in harsh weather.

"Getting transportation here has always been a problem and we're seeing an increase," said Kimmel, noting that, since her office is not a medical service, users haven't been eligible to use a MediVan service.

Vietnam veteran and Medford Councilman Bob Strosser noted that many vets needing rides have "ability issues" and need access to an array of medical services in locations once served by buses.

"There's a substantial need for drivers. We're seeing a lot of injured vets coming back from these conflicts and also earlier ones," said Strosser.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.