According to a recent study* over 41 percent of veterans enrolled in the VA healthcare system reside in rural areas (such as those in Southern New Jersey), not in major cities. Recent studies also confirm that transportation to crucial health-related appointments is one of the biggest impediments existing for veterans who need access to healthcare. Needless to say, this situation presents a multitude of problems. Some of the most concerning are that missed appointments can be directly related to higher rates of depression, socialization problems, and even suicide.
In just the JFCS Senior Services Program alone, approximately 10 percent of the clients are veterans, and there are many more in the community who express a dire need for this transportation support. To meet this challenge, JFCS has launched the Take the Wheel initiative, a veteran-to-veteran transportation service in which volunteer veterans will assist fellow veterans in need, by driving them to appointments.
“As we know too well with so many of our clients, the wait for any services from the VA, both for medical care, and for in-home eligibility programs such as Veterans Aid and Attendance, is extremely long. The VA is inundated with claims and the processing time is often unknown or well over a year,” says Rebecca Rosenau, Associate Administrative Director of Senior Services at JFCS.
According to the statistics, the State of NJ has over 472,000 veterans, with over 33,000 in Camden County alone. The Burlington County statistics estimate that their veteran population comprises over 10 percent of their county residents. Of those, the largest segment is Vietnam War veterans, who make up approximately 35 percent of the veterans in Burlington County.
The transportation issues that our veterans face are only compounded by reintegration challenges: transitioning from military culture to family culture; renegotiating roles and responsibilities in the home, and more. The Take the Wheel program, with the veteran-to-veteran component, will provide a positive, supportive piece to the transportation assistance, and will encourage a positive relationship for both the volunteer and recipient of the transportation service. Hopefully, it is not only a ride to an appointment, but a bonding experience through similar past experiences and a comfortable opportunity for sharing of issues and concerns.
“Through research and by interviewing many different professionals and lay leaders about veterans’ services and needs, the one common, constant need identified was transportation,” says Gail Belfer, JFCS Director of Senior Services. “A veteran who is living in the tri-county catchment area needs to rely on the county or township transportation programs, which have reduced their services in recent years. We have determined a need from the veterans we already serve, and a gap in service, identified to us by the Camden County Veteran Administration staff, elected township officials, and some veterans themselves.”
The Take the Wheel initiative is set to launch in June and is currently accepting applications for veteran drivers and clients alike. For more information, please call 856-424-1333 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
* Study conducted by the Transit Cooperative Research Program