By Rose L. Thayer
Harker Heights Herald
As a two-year transportation pilot program comes to an end, the Central Texas Veterans Health Care System wants veterans to know they will not be left without access to medical appointments.
"One of the important things I want veterans to know is that we're here to help our vets," said Deborah Meyer, spokesperson for the system. "All they need to do is call and we will try to accommodate as much as we can."
The Temple-based VA medical system was chosen for the pilot program from the Veteran Transportation Service, which picks veterans up from their homes and brings them to medical appointments at the Olin E. Teague Veterans' Medical Center. The program began in September 2010. Now that funding for the program has ended, the program, too, will end in September, said Meyer.
But there are other options, she said. For the last 10 years, the Temple VA has partnered with Disabled American Veterans groups to provide volunteer-based transportation.
"Rest assured we are still going to continue to provide transportation assistance, it's just going to be more through the volunteer network," said Meyer.
For veterans who are able to walk, the volunteer service has more than 140 volunteers who drive patients during designated hours and from specific pick-up locations to Temple.
Three vans are dedicated to the Veterans Transportation Network, which provides similar services through the Disabled American Veterans for people in Killeen, Harker Heights, Copperas Cove and Belton. To schedule with this network, veterans can call (254) 743-0880.
For veterans unable to walk, Meyer said the system's social work service is available to help them find alterative services. They can be reached at (254) 743-0963.
Another option, she said, is to get into a home-based care program, which means medical staff will travel to the veteran. This program is available within a 60-mile radius of Temple, Austin, Cedar Park and Palestine. Interested veterans can contact the social work office to learn more.
"If veterans tell them what they are interested in, they can make contact with the right program," said Meyer. "Social work knows the resources that we have here."
Debra Deweese said she has been using the transportation service to get to treatments for stage 4 colon cancer.
The Killeen resident doesn't own a car and said her appointments often begin before the volunteer shuttle service starts and end after it does.
"Now I have to find another way to get up there," she said.
The VA said it would like to expand its volunteer program, but will need more volunteers and donations to do so.
"We are recruiting volunteer drivers," said Bobby Zimmerman, chief of voluntary service.
"We would love to expand, and I would love to talk with any of the cities that are affected or any organizations that would like to help donate another van."
Those interested in volunteer opportunities can call (254) 743-2893.
"When there's a need, we try to meet the need, one way or the other," said Meyer.
Contact Rose L. Thayer at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7463. Follow her Twitter at KDHreporter.