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parties have always found a way to provide needed transportation services for veterans living in the Valley. For many years, the SunLine Transit Agency of the Coachella Valley provided a shuttle bus which traveled to an urban MetroLink transit depot. Veterans riding that route would disembark at the VA Hospital. When SunLine cut back services and suspended that bus route 6 years ago, AMVETS Post 66 of San Bernardino initiated their own shuttle to replace the discontinued transit vehicle. This service is now operated through DAV vehicles and volunteer drivers. In the Coachella Valley itself, disabled veterans can access the local paratransit program called Sun Dial and be transported to the VA Medical Clinic in Palm Desert. So whether the need is a local ride or a long-distance trip, the medical transportation needs of veterans living in Southern California's rural Coachella valley are being met. Key Features Local medical trips and other trips for disabled veterans are provided through the local public transit service. When the public transit agency suspended services for long-distance medical trips, AMVETS and DAV stepped up to continue that service. Sharing the responsibility for transporting veterans has allowed these veterans to maintain a relatively high level of mobility. OVERALL OBSERVATIONS Open Communication Between VAMCs and Transportation Providers Expands Options and Reduces Problems Some of the examples of the positive results from open communication include the following: Clinical staff can do their best to minimize delays for treatment when they are informed which veterans use shared ride services to access their medical services. When county transportation providers let VAMC travel office employees know who their passengers are, VA travel office employees know which riders are eligible for VA's Beneficiary Travel reimbursement program. 55
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VAMC employees who arrange appointments for medical services can pay attention to the schedules offered by the transportation provider (for example, a once-a-week van ride from a particular community). High Levels of Coordination Increase the Overall Level of Services There are numerous examples of agencies serving veterans working with local transportation programs. In one community, a nonprofit VSO and a county-sponsored transportation program cover different VAMC locations, offer alternate ride schedules, or cover overflows. Their mutual agreement allows these agencies to assist each other's peak demands by offering resources and technical support to each other. In another state, the Department of Transportation integrated rural public transit services with DAV volunteer services. A local small-community transportation service helps the local DAV schedule their volunteer rides. In yet another instance, the local DAV chapter stepped in to provide services that the public transit agency could no longer provide because of funding cuts. Applying multiple coordination strategies to the same community can be even more cost-effective. Qualified Volunteers Are Widely Used and Greatly Appreciated Many veterans are serving other veterans by volunteering their time and support in positions such as volunteer drivers and hospital service coordinators at the VAMCs, both of which are critical roles in providing transportation for veterans to medical facilities. Veterans (who may or may not be retired) offer key support as volunteers for many tasks (but note that volunteer responsibilities may be limited by regulations or practices; one such limitation is that of not allowing volunteers to operate lift-equipped vehicles). The support and empathy that veterans give to other veterans should be understood as a great resource for improving the mobility of veterans. 56