Veterans live in rural areas at a higher rate than the general population: one in four veterans compared to one in five adults. Additionally, rural veterans tend to be older than their neighbors and more likely to be disabled, thus they often rely even more on medical care. Due to this, challenges around rural transportation hit veterans particularly hard, and mobility managers need to pursue creative approaches to getting veterans the unique care they need.
Currently the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers mileage reimbursement and Non-Emergency Medical Transportation (NEMT) services for travel to health care and rehabilitation services for disabled veterans that meet one of eight qualifying criteria. However, there remains a lack of options for the veterans who fall outside those criteria, who cannot reach transportation by themselves, or who wish to travel to locations other than medical care.
A recent investigation in Colorado found that nearly one in five Colorado veterans who live in rural areas are not getting the same standard of care are those who live in metropolitan areas. For many who live in rural areas, primary care may be available nearby but specialty care is often hundreds of miles away. The article linked above looks at current structures and systems in place for Veterans and how these systems either improve or inhibit their ability to get needed assistance and care.
Not only is it challenging to find and arrange transportation out of rural areas, travel times can be longer than the appointment itself, and when transportation falls through, rescheduling an appointment through the VA can be time consuming and difficult due to short notice. In response to this, the Cadillac Wexford Transit Authority is partnering with local two local Councils on Aging and the Department of Health and Human services to create a new ridership program which will use volunteer drivers to transport veterans, seniors, and others to necessary appointments.
The Veterans Services Department in Peabody, MA also has been working to improve travel to appointments after realizing that family members of veterans were taking time off work to take them to medical appointments or that veterans were even paying for private transportation to avoid asking for rides. Through the use of volunteer drivers and a locally donated Honda Odyssey, the Veteran Services Department is now able to offer pre-scheduled rides for veterans and those who are members of Peabody’s veterans services organization.
Lyft recently partnered with the local United Service Organization (USO) Pathfinder program in Washington state to create a new program that provides local military community resources to become Lyft drivers and offers ride credits for service members. These ride credits can be used to increase flexibility to search for jobs, integrate into the community, and reach medical care.
To truly honor veterans, it is important to provide them with the particular services they need, none of which can be successful without the means to reach them. As communities work to improve their veterans’ services, mobility concerns should play a central role, as shown in the examples above.
Image Credit: Pennsylvania DMVA, Flickr, CC