MAYVILLE - Declining ridership and a new partnership are allowing the Chautauqua County Veterans Service Agency to save money.
The agency will no longer make trips to the Erie Veterans Administration Medical Center on Thursdays. Veterans who use the service will be able to ride in the Disabled American Veterans van to make the trip.
According to statistics from the county Veterans Service Agency, the ridership on their Erie van has been reduced to 12 veterans who made 10 trips in the last four months, with anywhere from one to three people riding the bus per trip.
The Disabled American Veterans, a national nonprofit organization, is now operating van transportation to each of the hospitals.
"The DAV van that goes to the Erie VAMC has agreed to transport these 12 veterans and any other veterans that may need this service at no cost to either the veterans or the County," said County Executive Greg Edwards. "As a result, as of Jan. 1, 2013, the Chautauqua County Veterans Service Agency will be discontinuing its transportation services to the Erie VAMC."
Discontinuing the trips to Erie will save Chautauqua County more than $5,500 per year in fuel, maintenance and other operating costs that can then be invested in other veterans' services.
"Although we are eliminating our runs to Erie, veterans will not be losing any medical services," said Doug Diers, Chautauqua County Veterans Service Agency director. "We will still be providing trips to the Buffalo VAMC, which provides the same quality of care and service entitlements to our county veterans and their dependents. In addition, veterans who enjoy going to Erie for their medical services can still do so by taking advantage of the DAV van."
Diers also said the agency has tried to contact all of the veterans who have used the county's van service to Erie in the last year and have connected them with the Erie DAV van to assure that they have a seamless transition.
"I would like to thank the team at our County Veterans Service Agency for their commitment to the quality of service to our veterans, and it is excellent to see the numerous services available for the men and women who have served our nation," Edwards said.
Veterans interested in using the DAV van to go to the Erie VA medical center should call Karen O'Neil, Erie DAV volunteer service coordinator, at 814-860-2454 to schedule an appointment. All rides require a five-day advanced notice.
In 2006, the Chautauqua County Veterans Service Agency was funded with $257,059 by the taxpayers and filed 130 claims while arranging for necessary transportation for veterans outside the county for medical treatment. Since 2006 the county has been working to increase services, improve access for veterans to healthcare and become a more efficient operation.
"The result of this significant effort has been that we combined our VSA and Office for the Aging offices in Jamestown and co-located them with the Veterans-only Health Clinic," Edwards said. "We participated in the formation of a Veterans Court, purchased a brand new van to transport veterans, and filed almost three times as many claims in 2011, and we did this while cutting the costs to our taxpayers by approximately 22 percent."
For more information contact the Veterans Service Agency at 661-8255.