Dozens of elderly drivers who served in the country’s previous wars will be driven into retirement in a first-of-its-kind program that will involve their former colleagues pick up the tab for their accommodations and motorized car service in Iowa. Officials at the Iowa Department of Transportation announced the move Thursday morning during the National Joint Chiefs of Staff conference in Washington.
“It’s pretty brutal,” J. Todd Butler, vice commander of the Mississippi River Air National Guard, said of the sandwich generation. “It’s a lot of downsizing.” Butler, 77, will become the first citizen-soldier to have his extended military service marked with the Iowa Veterans Institute, which, like several other former military bases in the state, has taken the initiative to make affordable senior housing available for former service members. However, the VA and other service providers have not yet stepped up to help with additional resources.
Forty-seven thousand Americans currently live in the sandwich generation, Butler said. For many who served in the armed forces in the Vietnam War, Iraq War and now Afghanistan, there is a lack of information or transportation options to afford a comfortable retirement, Butler said.
“If you’re trying to maintain your health or move with dignity and dignity, if you’re trying to get around, that’s a challenge,” he said. “If you look back over time, Vietnam era, the VA denied men the same, if not more so, than women.”
In addition to its staff, Butler is being served in retirement by a battalion of 40-odd soldiers in his home state of Missouri. They commute 30-minutes to his St. Louis neighborhood. Butler said one soldier has already committed to help drive an older Vietnam veteran across the state, making an expensive family vacation less expensive.
Twenty-six veterans living on Iowa’s active military bases have made similar arrangements, and they have fewer restrictions because they live close to the stateside facilities and can rely on resources such as bus service. For those serving in Iowa’s state-operated National Guard, the logistics were tougher, Butler said. The vast majority live in rural areas and already have to deal with traffic, having to travel long distances to catch a bus or train, he said.
“There’s a big disadvantage for those who are far away from a large establishment and it’s much more difficult,” he said.
Going forward, Butler plans to leverage his Army credentials to help veteran-owned businesses apply for veterans-owned business status, and to work with the airline industry to update its programs for military veterans, he said.
“If there’s a way to help veterans one step at a time, that’s good,” he said. “Small business is the next step, and there should be easy ways to help veterans.”