Transportation for veterans creates concerns

State took $2.8 million out of Colorado's trust fund

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— The Routt County Veterans Affairs Office is concerned that funding for transportation to the Veterans Affairs Hospital is in jeopardy.

VA Service Officer Mike Condie said the $2.8 million that the state took out of the Colorado Veterans Trust Fund could mean the loss of a grant that provides transportation for veterans to the Grand Junction and Denver VA hospitals.

"We do deal with a lot of older veterans. A lot of these older guys utilize the VA's medical system and it is really hard for them to drive," Condie said.

For about a year, the American Legion Post 44 in Steamboat has received a $6,000 grant for transportation to VA hospitals and Condie said the funding is secure for one more year. Condie estimates that between six to eight veterans use the service each month to make doctor appointments at the closest VA hospitals. The hospitals provide free or reduced-cost care to veterans.

The transportation service reaches veterans from Moffat, Rio Blanco and Routt counties. Condie said the service is scheduled to make trips to the Grand Junction hospital on the second and fourth Wednesday of the month, but also drives veterans on other occasions. The fund pays $100 to the driver and for the rented vehicle.

Condie received the grant from the Colorado Veterans Trust Fund, which was created from the tobacco settlement allocated to Colorado. From the interest of that fund, more than $300,000 was spread to veterans throughout the state.

But with the $2.8 million taken out of the trust fund, Condie fears that interest would be dramatically reduced and hurt the area's chances of getting money for transportation.

Condie said he was inspired to write the transportation grant after visiting a War World II veteran living in Hayden. The man was dependent on friends and families to make the trip to Grand Junction's VA Hospital, which meant a day of lost income for the driver and wear and tear on the vehicle.

The real concern, Condie said, is that there are no VA medical services in Northwest Colorado and every time a veteran has to be treated it is more than a 370-mile round trip drive.

"The intention was to service veterans in Northwest Colorado because we have no VA services here," Condie said.

What Condie hopes will happen is that a relationship will form between one of the three hospitals in Moffat, Rio Blanco and Routt counties. He said talks have started with the Yampa Valley Medical Center on forming a contract with the VA.

"If veterans get to go to local hospitals, they have the potential to see their local doctors," Condie said. "They wouldn't have to travel any longer to regain the benefits they earned. And they earned the care at a Veterans Hospital."

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