For the past 2 to 3 years the Chariton Valley Transportation Affiliation (CVTPA-RPA17) region has been working with the local transit agency 10-15 Transit to learn more about what needs are in the region. The region’s local Passenger Transportation Plan (PTP), which is updated annually, identifies some of the questions by holding public meetings to work through transit questions and concerns. During one of this year’s update meetings the Veteran’s Affairs office in Wayne County asked if there was a way to utilize 10-15 Transit to help transport local veteran’s to Des Moines for medical visits on a monthly basis.

The Veteran’s Affairs data shows that veterans who live in rural settings have greater health care needs and lower health-related quality-of-life scores compared with urban veterans.

In an effort to address this concern, The “Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014” and the “Surface Transportation and Veterans Health Care Choice Act of 2015” made significant changes to the ways in which veterans could access health care. These two pieces of legislation allowed veterans to seek health care from non-VA clinics as long as they met certain circumstances, such as these transportation barriers:

— If the veteran lives more than 40 miles driving distance from a VA medical facility with a full-time primary care physician.

— If the veteran needs to travel by air, boat, or ferry to the VA medical facility closest to his/ her home.

— If the veteran faces an unusual or excessive burden in traveling to a VA medical facility based on geographic challenges, environmental factors, a medical condition, the nature or frequency of the care needed, or the need to be accompanied by an attendant.

Staff at the local VA medical facility can work with any veteran to determine if s/he is eligible for any of these reasons. Eligibility for VA medical benefits is based on certain minimum standards related to their active duty or have been discharged for hardship, early out, or a disability incurred or aggravated in the line of duty. Any person needing more information should contact the local Veteran’s Affairs Office in their respective county.

Living in a rural area can make it difficult to access the high-quality Veterans medical care they deserve. Although there may be many obstacles prohibiting Veteran’s from obtaining medical care, distance and transportation are cited as being the most common challenge greater health care needs and lower health-related quality-of-life scores compared with urban veterans. Chariton Valley Transportation Planning Affiliation, 10-15 Transit and the local VA offices of Appanoose, Wayne and Lucas Counties have a launched a transportation initiative to improve veteran’s access to health care.

Local VA medical services are provided through a Clinic in Knoxville (no hospital service available) and Des Moines which has the Veteran’s Hospital and all related services.

Joella Perry, Wayne County Veteran’s Affairs Director, explains that “there are many factors considered to calculate any transportation reimbursements for transporting a Veteran privately and often times the private ride may not be covered. This can lead to people not making it to crucial appointments.” She and other local VA directors have witnessed individuals quit taking medications because they have no transportation to a renewal appointment. They also know of veterans with physical disabilities that have difficulty finding private transportation with accessibility so they simply skip crucial appointments. Lucas County Veteran’s Affair Director, Dave Amos, indicates that he is aware of multiple local veterans who have relied on family members for transportation but when the appointments become more frequent, it becomes too burdensome.

Since the local Veteran Affairs offices reached out to Chariton Valley Transportation Planning Affiliation for assistance to resolve transportation challenges, 10-15 Transit proposed a monthly service to VA appointments on the third Thursday of each month with service to the Des Moines location only and starting on July 25, 2019. Clients will need to sign up by calling 10-15 Transit’s dispatch before 3 p.m. the Tuesday prior to the trip. There will need to be three confirmed riders to make each trip.

Veterans will be charged $25 and if attendants are necessary they will ride free. Residential pick-ups will begin in Appanoose County about 7 a.m., Wayne County approximately 7:45 a.m., Lucas County about 8:15 a.m. and arrival in Des Moines will be 10-10:15 a.m. Clients need to make appointments from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and departure will be approximately 3 p.m. from Des Moines.

The 2017 American Community Survey by the US Census indicates an increase of veterans from 2000 to 2017. There are nearly 500 more veterans more in 2017 from across the three counties of Appanoose, Lucas and Wayne Counties. The ACS estimates 937 veterans in Appanoose County with the majority as Vietnam era and the first Gulf War veterans. More than one-quarter of those veterans have a service-connected disability. The majority of Lucas County’s 640 veterans served in during the Vietnam era and the first Gulf War. Approximately 21% of the Lucas County veterans have a disability related to their service. Wayne County’s veterans primarily served in the Vietnam era and the Korean War era. Approximately 11% of the 461 veterans possess a disability-related to their service. The newly established veteran’s transportation service could potentially benefit more than 2,000 veterans if they take advantage of the service.

All 10-15 Transit services are open to the general public, including persons with disabilities. There are vehicles available that provide wheelchair accessibility. 10-15 Transit provides door to door transportation for residents in the following 10 counties in Southeast Iowa: Appanoose, Davis, Jefferson, Keokuk, Lucas, Mahaska, Monroe, Van Buren, Wapello, and Wayne. Each ride depends on bus and driver availability and a 24-hour advance reservation is recommended. Anyone needing to schedule a ride should call 641-683-2024 or 1-800-227-6390.