VTS Transportation Coordinator (and Veteran) Alex Martinez and assistant Nancy Berhow assist Veteran Bob Kelleher into Veterans Transportation Services van at Salt Lake City VA Medical Center.
Disabled American Volunteers and VA Partner to Expand Service
It’s all about the distance.
From Fillmore, Utah to Salt Lake City it’s 145 miles…about a 2 hour and 15 minute drive.
Or if a Veteran in Fillmore decided to head south to the Community Based Outpatient Clinic in St. George, Utah, it’s 160 miles, two hours and 20 minutes.
To make sure that Veterans can get to VA hospitals and clinics, the Veterans Transportation Service at the Salt Lake City Health Care System provides complimentary transportation services for enrolled Veterans in rural and “highly rural” areas.
The Veterans Transportation Service, along with the Utah Volunteer Transportation Network, have partnered to provide expanded transportation services to Veterans with special needs, Veterans who prefer not to drive, and Veterans who don’t have transportation resources to VA facilities.
“I’m thankful for their good service and safe driving.”
The transportation program will be available to Veterans throughout Utah, northeastern Nevada, and in southern Idaho (Pocatello and Idaho Falls).
VA’s goal is to explore the establishment of a network of community transportation service providers that could include Veteran Service Organizations (VSOs), community and commercial transportation providers, federal, state and local government transportation services as well as non-profits, such as United We Ride, operating within each network of VA facilities or even within a local facility.
While all Veterans enrolled in VA health care are eligible for the new transportation program, priority will be given to Veterans with disabilities, and wheelchair-bound Veterans.
43 VA Locations Next
The Salt Lake City medical center is one of the original four VA locations chosen to pilot the new special needs transportation program. By the end of this year, Salt Lake City Health Care System hopes to have 1,000 riders a month.
The other Phase One pilot sites are Temple, Texas, Muskogee, Okla. and Ann Arbor, Mich. Phases Two and Three are in the process of being implemented by 2012 at 43 sites.
It is anticipated that similar transportation services will be available at an additional 110 VA locations by 2014.
Prior to the new program, Veterans’ access to the Salt Lake VAMC from rural areas was limited to rides provided by donated vans, a volunteer’s private transportation or the Veteran’s private transportation. Veterans needing wheelchairs, walkers or scooters were not able to receive free rides in any of the donated vans.
To launch the program, five passenger buses were purchased, two with 16 seats and two wheelchair slots, and three with 11 seats and one wheelchair slot. Four vans were also purchased and configured for nine passengers and one wheelchair slot, along with three 12 passenger vans to support the opening of additional routes in rural areas that don’t have any form of public transportation.
VA and VSOs to Partner for New Service
The mission of the program is to improve the quality of life for Veterans by increasing access to health care through innovative, efficient and effective transportation assistance. And it’s working, according to one Veteran named Chris: “I don’t have a car and it would cost me $800 a month to go to my appointments. If it wasn’t for VTS, I don’t know how I’d get to my appointments. It is a much welcome relief.”
The program objectives are to provide Veterans with convenient and timely access to transportation services and overcome access barriers to increase transportation resources and options for all Veterans.
VA plans to partner and integrate the new service with VSO and create a state-of-the-art transportation system using 21stst Century ride-share software.
Another Veteran enjoying the service is Ellen, who says, “The drivers are very gracious in getting us in the van. They lifted me up like I was a little flower. I’m thankful for their good service and safe driving.”
Veterans in Utah, northeastern Nevada and southern Idaho can get information on the new transportation service online.