County implements veterans transportation plan

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— More than 1,500 veterans reside in Routt County, but to get medical treatment earned by their military service, they must travel to Grand Junction.

Now they have some assistance. Recently, Routt County Veterans Affairs was awarded a $3,000 grant to help veterans with transportation to the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Grand Junction.

The program will start Feb. 27 and will be offered every month on the second and fourth Wednesday.

"This is a foot in the door," said Michael Condie, Routt County veterans affairs officer. "This is an area that is underserved. Travel is the whole issue. It is extremely difficult for some veterans to go to Denver or Grand Junction to utilize the VA health system."

Condie applied for the grant through the Colorado State Veterans Trust Fund last fall because numerous veterans from Northwest Colorado are having trouble taking advantage of the medical benefit.

Condie requested $6,000 but was granted half of that amount, which he anticipates will be enough to last the rest of the year.

Veterans who plan to utilize the program will have to make their appointments with the medical center on the designated Wednesdays between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m.

"It is important for veterans to tailor their appointments for those days," Condie said.

Condie said officials at the Grand Junction center are willing to schedule appointments on the designated Wednesdays.

So far, Condie has done two trial trips to the Grand Junction medical center.

When the program is fully implemented in February, seven spots will be available for each trip. Spots will be reserved on a first-come, first-served basis, Condie said.

To get veterans to the medical center, Condie plans to rent a vehicle and hire a driver. Drivers will be paid a flat fee of $125. Condie's first choice for drivers will be members of the Steamboat Springs American Legion Post 44 or Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4264.

Condie said he wants veterans to be part of the solution and it is important for veterans to help each other.

Veterans who are interested in driving must have a good driving record, he said.

If a veteran driver does not come forward, Condie intends to hire a bus driver from the Steamboat Springs School District or a driver with the city's transit center.

On the days the program is offered, the rented van will depart close to four hours before the first scheduled appointment.

The van will depart from Steamboat Springs via U.S. 40. The van will make stops in Milner, Hayden and Craig.

The program will also be open to veterans in Moffat and Rio Blanco counties. Before getting onto Interstate 70, the van will travel through Meeker and Rifle.

Condie has calculated each trip will cost $225, which includes paying for the vehicle, the driver and fuel.

Condie is hopeful the transportation program will ease the trouble some veterans are experiencing as he continues to lobby for medical care here.

A VA clinic in Northwest Colorado is a long shot because the veteran population is not large enough, he said.

However, Condie is working on another alternative veterans getting care from local private providers. Condie is hopeful a program can be worked out with local medical centers, clinics and physicians so veterans do not have to travel.

"Why should a veteran have to go to Grand Junction when they can see a doctor here in the county, and the money stays here in the county?" Condie asked.

To help push the idea forward, Condie has contacted county and state officials, as well as veteran administrators.

"This is an issue that is not going to go away," he said. "Hopefully, the transportation program will open up other doors."

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