Oregon’s Highly Rural Transportation Program, a federal, state and local partnership that is helping meet the urgent transportation needs of veterans who live in extremely rural areas, has logged over 500,000 miles in its first two years of operation.
That’s farther than the distance to the moon and back.
Veterans who were served by this program did not fly to the moon, but they were transported all over the Pacific Northwest to see their doctors and receive medical care. Federally funded and administered by the state and its partner agencies in the 10 participating counties, the program is tailored to the needs of rural veterans, who often do not have adequate access to medical care in their communities.
Connie Guentert, Wallowa County manager for Community Connection of Northeast Oregon Inc., knows these challenges better than most. Community Connection is the Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs’ (ODVA’s) partner agency for the Highly Rural Transportation Program in both Wallowa and Baker counties, and Guentert and her dedicated staff grapple with the difficulty of serving highly rural veterans and other clients every day.
“We’re very remote out here,” she said. “We have very large land expanses, minimal medical facilities, and the only public transportation in the county is us. Our drivers face long winters, adverse weather and road conditions, rock slides, deer, elk, even bears on the road.”
The trips are rarely short. Because of the scarcity of services, Wallowa County veterans must travel to appointments in La Grande, Walla Walla, Boise, and