Veterans Airlift Command was started by Jen’s father in 2006 as a way to help veterans in their local area get to medical appointments. VAC provides free private flights to veterans and their families as they go through the healing process, whether it be physical or mental. As a primarily volunteer-run organization, VAC has had a massive impact in getting veterans to the care they need.
Can you explain how the transport process works?
We have a group of 2,700 volunteer pilots nationwide. Our first mission was in 2006, and I started working at VAC a year later when we only had around 100 pilots on board. We fly post-9/11 combat wounded veterans and their families for medical and compassionate purposes. They fly on private or commercially-owned aircrafts and it’s all totally free. The pilots and aircraft owners donate the cost of the flight, which is a pretty significant donation since fuel and crews are expensive. I get to work with veterans who were injured in combat serving our country and volunteers who are dedicating their time and money, so I see the wonderful people on both ends. It’s really the best job.
Where did the idea to start VAC come from?
Our founder is a Vietnam veteran who was a pilot that was injured in combat. He’s also my dad. He founded VAC thinking that he would just use his own plane to help veterans, but eventually the requests were too far away for him to tackle it alone. His pilot friends stepped in to help and they realized this was bigger than them. I sent out a mass-email to people who owned aircrafts in the US and there was an overwhelming response of people who wanted to help us. My dad went from working locally in his own aircraft to expanding nationally with thousands of volunteers. Since we started, we’ve flown 19,500 passengers.
Can you tell me about the veterans you help?
We didn’t realize when we started this how much long-term need there would be. For example, veterans who are amputees have to get new limbs as they rehabilitate and we fly them back and forth for their appointments with the prosthetist. We also fly veterans for PTSD treatment, substance abuse, and traumatic brain injuries. A lot of veterans can’t get on commercial flights because they aren’t healed enough, so these private flights are their only option. Additionally, we’ll fly families to and home from the hospital and funerals.
Do you have any goals for where you want to take VAC?
One of the reasons why we’re so successful is we don’t change our mission. A lot of the injuries we help with are lifetime injuries, which means we need to be here in the future. We’re working on an endowment so we don’t need to worry about fundraising and VAC will be here for future generations. We have a paid staff of four people, and it’s really amazing what we’ve been able to accomplish. We’ve formed great relationships with our volunteers and I want that to continue. My goal is just to keep up our great work and help as many veterans as we can.