In northwest Minnesota, accessibility to services offered by the Veterans Administration Medical Centers is limited by the distance veterans need to travel to reach them.
Thanks to the V4V (Veterans For Veterans) Foundation and Disabled American Veterans-Minnesota (DAV-MN), however, that accessibility will be greatly improved in the near future.
On Thursday, representatives Hank Sadler and Dean Ascheman of the V4V Foundation were in Detroit Lakes to present a $25,000 grant check, in support of the Transportation Program of Northwestern Minnesota.
“This past year we’ve been very excited about what’s going on here (in northwest Minnesota),” Ascheman said, referring to the transportation program.
“We want to actively be part of your organization and support its needs,” Sadler added.
DAV-MN Executive Director Stephen Whitehead also announced during the presentation that the national DAV would be matching that grant donation with a second $25,000 check.
“That means we’re two-thirds of the way there already,” Whitehead said. “The total cost (of purchasing three transportation vans to serve this part of the state) is about $75,000.
“We’re off to a great start,” he added.
The remaining $25,000 will need to be raised locally by the counties that will be served by the transportation program, he added.
Also on hand for the presentation was Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs Commissioner Larry Shellito, who personally thanked V4V Foundation for the donation, noting, “Not only are you partnering with a great organization (on this transportation project), you’re partnering with the best.”
Shellito later sat down for an interview about the transportation program and what it would mean to the estimated 33,000 military veterans currently living in northwest Minnesota.
“Northwest Minnesota is a very large area, and this project will provide a very workable, efficient, cost effective transportation system,” he said.
One of the reasons why the program will be more cost efficient, Shellito said, is that rather than storing the vans at one of the VA Centers, they will each be housed in one of three communities spaced throughout the region.
This means the vans will only need to make one trip to and from Fargo, St. Cloud or the Twin Cities each day, instead of from the medical center to the outlying areas, back to deliver veterans to the medical center, then taking them home, and finally bringing the van back to the medical center.
In effect, housing the vans in outlying communities served by the program will be reducing transportation costs by half, Shellito noted
But there are other advantages as well, he added.
For one thing, families of veterans needing services will no longer need to transport them 50-100 miles or more to the nearest VA Medical Center.
Instead, family members will simply have to transport them a short distance, to the nearest pickup point for one of the three transportation vans.
For another, the veterans will be able to share the ride to the VA Medical Center with other area vets, many of whom are longstanding friends.
“What we have found is that the veterans look forward to that ride, where they can be with their friends,” Shellito said. “It’s all about community and relationships. This is an excellent program and I’m very excited about it.”
Follow Detroit Lakes Newspapers reporter Vicki Gerdes on Twitter at @VickiLGerdes.