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VA transportation initative set for 'highly rural' vets

The Department of Veterans Affairs this week announced a new initiative aimed at helping its population served in rural areas.

In a release issued Wednesday by the VA, the organization stated that it intends to offer "new transportation services for those living in highly rural areas" and that it has started accepting applications for grants to assist various veterans' agencies and organizations in operating or contracting for transportation services.

"VA wants to be sure that all veterans, including those who live in rural and remote areas, can receive the health care they have earned," said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki in the release.

"State veterans agencies and VSOs will now be able to employ innovative approaches to transportation services for veterans in our highly rural areas. The end results will be better health care for veterans."

The proposed transportation services would be utilized to shuttle veterans to VA medical care centers and other health care facilities for medical needs and appointments. There would be no cost to users of the service, according to the VA.

After embarking on a tour through the state this summer highlighting the need for enhanced health care services and awareness for veterans, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., lauded the announcement in a press release issued Thursday.

"It's critical that we respond to the needs of our veterans," Heitkamp stated in the release. "The VA's new initiative is a smart and much-needed response to a sentiment I heard from veterans throughout the state. Lack of transportation should never prevent veterans from getting the care they deserve."

Heitkamp hosted a veterans' forum in Dickinson earlier this month where several attendees noted the fact that many veterans in southwest North Dakota need to travel to either Fargo or Sturgis, S.D., to receive care.

Veterans' service organizations and agencies will be able to apply for grants up to $50,000 to fund transportation of veterans to and from VA medical centers, would could come through private contractors or bus or van companies, according to the VA.

With a "highly rural area" defined as a "country or counties with a population of few than seven persons per square mile" by the VA, a large swath of western North Dakota would be considered in the category.

Stark County Veterans Service Officer Leslie Ross was unavailable for comment Thursday.

Bryan Horwath
A Wisconsin native, Horwath has been covering news in the Oil Patch of North Dakota since 2012. Horwath currently serves as the senior agriculture and political reporter for The Dickinson Press and, despite the team's tendency to always let him down, remains a diehard Minnesota Vikings fan.
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