Reston nonprofit offers veterans free rides to support health care access

A driver and rider participating in NV Rides’ free transportation program (courtesy NV Rides)

Two local service groups launched an outreach initiative on Tuesday (June 22) to help transport veterans to and from medical appointments.

The free service is being managed by the Reston-based Dulles Airport Transportation Association and its longtime partner NV Rides, a network of volunteer driver programs housed at the nonprofit Pozez Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia.

With the initiative, the organizations hope to address one of the many issues that veterans face when seeking health care, exemplified by the cancellation of millions of medical appointments at Veterans Affairs medical facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although virtual visits have surged and vaccinations are rising, medical needs persist.

“The program hopes to harness the power of the special bonds that exist between the men and women who’ve selflessly served our country,” a press release announcing the launch says.

DATA and NV Rides were already collaborating to give veterans rides through their existing Veterans Connect program. This expansion is specifically dedicated to serving elderly veterans and those with disabilities.

Targeted toward veterans in Fairfax, Loudoun, and Prince William counties, the program is currently recruiting additional volunteer drivers, who can be veterans or other community members. Drivers utilize their own vehicles.

Interested individuals can visit the Veterans Connect Facebook page or contact Luke Frazza at [email protected] or 703-819-3459, and Karla Nativi at [email protected] or 571-455-2836 to volunteer or learn more.

“While veterans have long stepped up to support their brothers and sisters in arms, elderly veterans have told us they are more likely to take advantage of a volunteer ride provided by someone with whom they have literally or even figuratively shared a foxhole,” the press release said.

Before the pandemic, the NV Rides network provided about 1,100 rides per month to non-driving adults 55 and older, primarily in Fairfax and Loudoun counties, according to the group.

With stay-at-home orders last year, ridership declined by 60%, but partners continued to provide ride services to the most critical medical care appointments. Over the past year, ridership has bounced back, with the network providing over 1,500 rides last month, the organization says.

“We think this veteran-specific expansion of our NV Rides program will underscore our belief that our network provides ‘More than just a ride,'” NV Rides Manager Jennifer Kanarek said in a statement. “…Stories of joyful moments between volunteers and passengers are far more often the rule than the exception.”

Researchers have found that transportation can be a major barrier to accessing health care, a concern that has persisted in Fairfax County’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout.

The county is now offering a free weekend shuttle to and from its vaccine clinic on Route 1 in Alexandria. Other available transportation options include free taxi rides and rides for people 55 and older from the Shepherd’s Center.

In addition to the Veterans Connect program, DATA has also partnered with the nonprofit Northern Virginia Veterans Association to provide free rides to veterans for COVID-19 vaccine appointments, WDVM reported in May. That effort is being funded by an $80,000 grant from the Federal Transit Administration.

“The feedback we’ve received from local veteran service organizations has been nothing but positive,” Veterans Connect Mobility Manager Luke Frazza said in a statement. “Support for the project has transcended those who served however, and garnered praise from across our community.”

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