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Veterans could get a ride

by Sara Hacking,

Staff Writer

A recent survey conducted by Wadena County Veterans Services has the county board discussing a possible transportation service for veterans to area veterans hospitals.

Eighty-five percent of veterans who responded to the survey indicated they would use transportation services to travel to medical facilities in St. Cloud, Fargo, Minneapolis, Fergus Falls or Brainerd. St. Cloud and Fargo were the two most frequently selected locations.

Lane Waldahl, county board chairman, said he believes the transportation system is an important service to offer veterans.

"Our veterans went out and fought for this country," Waldahl said. "I think we need to give them something in return."

Wadena County veterans are getting older and a lot of them do not like to drive at night or in bad weather, said Wadena VFW Commander Jim White.

"I'm one of the young ones," said White, 69.

David Anderson said he began receiving calls from veterans requesting rides to their doctor appointments soon after taking over as the county veterans service officer last spring. He had to tell them that Wadena County does not offer transportation services for veterans, he said. Most counties in the area including Todd, Otter Tail, Cass, Beltrami and Morrison offer this service.

Anderson met with White and Waldahl, a veteran, in July to discuss the issue, he said. They agreed to conduct a survey through local newspapers and veterans organizations to assess the level of interest in developing a transportation program.

Waldahl said the idea of a veterans transportation system has been around for all four years he has served on the county board. This is the first time anyone has conducted a survey, he said. Anderson and White presented the results of the survey at the Sept. 5 county board meeting.

Anderson and White's next step is to form a plan about how the program will work and bring that before the board, Waldahl said. Then a decision can be made.

The idea of a veterans transportation service is definitely a good one, said Orville Meyer, county commissioner. But he does not know if the county can afford the program.

"I'm all for it if we can make some arrangements," he said. "I'm sure that it will be discussed more."

Anderson wanted to emphasize that no formal arrangements have been made for a transportation service, he said.

"Everything right now is in a planning phase," he said.

White said some of the issues that are being discussed include how often transportation would be available, who would drive the vehicle and how much veterans would pay for the service.

They are considering a once-a-week ride on Wednesday, he said. The van would go to a different veteran's hospital each week. Veterans would need to arrange a ride a week to 10 days in advance of the time of their appointment, White said. Volunteers would drive the van. According to the survey, 32 percent of respondents said they were willing to be volunteer drivers.

The county would probably charge veterans $20 to $25 per trip to cover the cost of gas and wear and tear on the van, White said.

Ninety percent of veterans who took the survey said they were willing to pay for the service if the price was reasonable. The majority selected $20 as a reasonable price over $25 and $30.

Five percent of Wadena County veterans took the survey. Anderson said he was pleased with the response.

County Commissioner Mary Harrison pointed out that wheelchair-bound veterans are of special concern. Drivers would need special training to deal with veterans in wheelchairs, she said.

Otter Tail County does not offer transportation to veterans confined to wheelchairs, according to the county Web site.

Another concern that was brought up at the Sept. 5 county board meeting was the amount of time veterans would have to spend waiting for other veterans to finish their doctors appointments.

Anderson said other veterans service officers have told him veterans expect the wait and consider it a blessing just to have the service.

Wadena County already has 1,200 veterans, he said. Having a veteran transportation service in the county would serve as an appealing factor for veterans looking to relocate in the area. Wadena's location by Highway 71 and Highway 10 makes it easier for veterans to get to medical facilities than from other counties, he said.

"If the service was instituted it would be an important show of support for the veterans of Wadena County," Anderson said.

sarah@wadenapj.com

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