By Alice Wheet
With wars winding down, more and more Americans are returning home. About 23 million veterans live in the United States today, many of whom need help reintegrating into civilian life. We talk commonly about how important it is for veterans to access jobs, school, medical and mental health care, and social events such as visits with family and friends. But what makes all these activities possible? Transportation.
Without dependable and affordable transportation, veterans may find it difficult to access military benefits or to meet the new challenges of returning home. For many veterans, though, everyday travel can be a hardship because of disabilities, age, medical conditions or financial constraints. In addition, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) estimates that four in 10 veterans live in rural areas where community services and transportation options are limited.
A common misconception is that U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and volunteer programs can meet all veterans’ transportation needs. As NCSL discovered in our survey research in 2012 (published January 2013 as “A Mission to Serve: State Activities to Help Veterans Access Transportation”), while such programs provide vital, quality transportation for some groups of veterans to make medical trips, they are more limited in their ability to help veterans get around for other reasons.
The good news is that states have a rich variety of programs and approaches that help veterans have a dignified and dedicated means of transportation regardless of geographic location, physical ability, financial constraints, or other circumstances. An upcoming webinar on Wednesday, Oct. 2, at 3 p.m. ET/ 2 p.m. CT/1 p.m. MT/ Noon PT will highlight some of these critical ways that states are helping veterans get where they need to go.
Two states—North Dakota and Oregon—will be featured on the webinar as states that have made big strides in facilitating transportation mobility for veterans. North Dakota has its own state transportation service for veterans, offering van rides to the VA hospital in Fargo, and Oregon’s unique approach stems from the work of a legislatively mandated task force on veterans’ transportation.
Both states have worked for years to build relationships across agencies and improve transportation options for veterans. Kim Adair, transit section program manager at the North Dakota Department of Transportation (NDDOT) and Dinah Vanderhyde from the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) Public Transit Division will present on their states’ efforts.
Other speakers will include Rik Opstelten from the United We Ride program at the Federal Transit Administration, which sponsors the Veterans Transportation and Community Living Initiative (VTCLI) federal grant program. Jaime Rall and Alice Wheet, co-authors of the NCSL report, will also review major highlights and themes in state veterans’ transportation activities from across the nation.
The webinar is free for legislators and legislative staff, but you must register in advance at https://www3.gotomeeting.com/register/356308606.