Veterans, disabled, elderly to get trip planning help

Sorel, McCollum

A federal grant will give rural Minnesota veterans, their families, disabled and elderly looking for rides to places like doctors’ offices an easier way to line up transportation.

Administrator Peter Rogoff of the Federal Transit Administration made the announcement Wednesday in St. Paul, saying the Obama administration is giving Minnesota nearly $1.2 million of $34 million being distributed nationwide.

While Rogoff’s announcement focused on the need for military veterans and their families to use transit systems, state officials said others needing the help will get it, including the elderly and disabled.

The funds will allow state transportation, military affairs and Human Services Department officials to set up a “trip planner” of sorts to give Minnesotans options. For instance, if a rural veteran needs to get to the Twin Cities for a medical appointment, he will be able to go on line or call a telephone number, say where he is and where he needs to go and the service will provide a transit solution.

For a veteran, it could include getting a ride from a nearby veterans’ service organization such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars. Or it could be a regional transit organization.

It may take four years to establish the system statewide, but 27 southwestern Minnesota counties should have the service running within a year. Once that is working, it will spread to other areas.

Those in the southwest, central and northeast parts of the state will find the trip planner incorporated with existing services, such as offered for elderly Minnesotans. The northwest and southeast regions do not have existing services that can be upgraded, state officials said.

“It’s trying to enhance the quality of life,” state Transportation Commissioner Tom Sorel said.

U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., said veterans have told her they need this kind of service so they can get to appointments of many types. Those just released from service often only have one car available for a family, she said, and help is needed to get around.

For rural veterans and others, services available to Minnesotans “can be limited by where you live,” said Brad Lindsay of the Veterans’ Affairs Department. The new trip planner should make longer trips possible, he added.

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The existing statewide Web site for information to aid Minnesota’s elderly, disabled, veterans, youth, refugees, poor and others is at mnhelp.info. The Senior Link hotline for the elderly is at (800) 333-2433; it is staffed 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays.

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