Area veterans can now travel to medical appointments for free

Veterans in southwest North Dakota now have another option when seeking out a ride to a medical appointment — and it’s one that won’t cost them.

By BRYCE MARTIN
ND Group Editor

Veterans in southwest North Dakota now have another option when seeking out a ride to a medical appointment — and it’s one that won’t cost them.

File Photo
File Photo

SW Transit, headquartered in Bowman, is now offering all veterans free transportation to and from any local or out-of-town medical appointments. It’s made possible through a federal grant from the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs.

Bowman and Slope County Veteran’s Affairs Officer Patti Sadowsky first approached the county commissioners with an idea to purchase a van for transporting local veterans to appointments using the grant.

The van was purchased but Sadowsky soon after discovered that SW Transit had access to the same grant and already had the infrastructure in place in the four-county region of Bowman, Adams, Hettinger and Slope counties.

Rather than compete, Sadowsky said it was in the veterans’ best interest to cooperate considering SW Transit’s reach and the size of its fleet.

“Veterans in rural areas weren’t getting much service,” Sadowsky told The Pioneer on Tuesday, namely because of Congress making the decision to control the VA.

A similar transportation service for veterans based out of Ekalaka, Mont., was disbanded. That program sought volunteers instead of using paid drivers like SW Transit, making it somewhat unreliable for scheduling purposes.

Sadowsky and her Slope County counterpart, Ernie Holzner, approached SW Transit for them to take over the county’s plan, and they graciously accepted. It also meant additional safety for veterans considering SW Transit’s insurance coverage, which would have been spendy for the county.

“Veterans were already paying to be taken (to appointments),” said Chanell Walby, director of SW Transit. “Now they can ride for free.”

The van owned by the county was then sent to another North Dakota county that needed it and the two entities joined forces.

SW Transit will handle all the scheduling and provide the door-to-door service to veterans as it already does for its daily service, so not much has to change.

Chenyi Harriman, assistant director of SW Transit, said the company might possibly hire additional drivers, but that’s going to depend on demand.

The service is first come, first serve, but Walby said they would do their best to accommodate veterans.

SW Transit will be reimbursed for the fares through the grant. And those fares are usually mounting considering that local veterans typically seek medical treatment at the Fort Meade Veterans Hospital in Sturgis, S.D., more than 100 miles from southwest North Dakota. The only other veteran’s facility is in Dickinson, but it has relatively limited services, according to Holzner.

Walby encouraged veterans needing to catch a ride to call as soon as a medical appointment is scheduled to help guarantee SW Transit would be able to offer a ride.

There is some amount of flexibility, however, since SW Transit has drivers stationed in each of the four counties. When a driver isn’t available in Bowman, for example, one from Hettinger might be able to cover the route.

While, any and all veterans will receive a round-trip ride at zero cost, they must be able to prove that they are a United States veteran by either providing their DD214 discharge papers, showing that they have a “V” (for veteran) on their license or presenting military identification. If none of those are available, Sadowsky said she might be able to help identify the local veterans.

The grant provided for five years of funding. After that time ends, the grant would be eligible for a review to potentially be renewed.

“This is truly a wonderful service to our community,” Sadowsky commented.

Veterans needing a free ride for medical appointments should contact SW Transit at (800) 280-0204 for out-of town rides, or (701) 579-5115 for local rides.