Westmoreland expands veterans' transportation services
Local veterans who find it difficult to get to appointments at Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals are getting some help.Starting Thursday, Westmoreland County is expanding its free transportation service for veterans into the northern part of the county.
Matthew A. Zamosky, the county's director of veterans affairs, said veterans will be able use the service to travel to medical appointments at the VA's University Drive facility in Pittsburgh and the H.J. Heinz facility in O'Hara.
“It's for any veteran who is enrolled in the VA Health System,” Zamosky said. “We're not going to restrict it by county.”
The van will run on Wednesdays and Thursdays for appointments scheduled between 9 a.m. and 12 p.m. It can accommodate up to 10 people.
“It is a free service for the veterans but the appointments are verified,” Zamosky said.
There will be two pickup points.
One is at the McDonald's restaurant along Coxcomb Hill Road (Route 909) in the Parnassus section of New Kensington.
The other top is the parking lot at District Judge Jason Buczak's office at 4066 Route 66 in Washington Township.
Veterans can drive to those locations, park their cars and then take the van to one of the VA facilities.
“Our van is set up for primarily morning appointments,” Zamosky said. “It's for the sake of the driver and the passengers, because its ‘once down and once back.'”
He said the trip is set up to avoid rush hour traffic.
“If there are other passengers, they may have to wait for you or you may have to wait for them,” he said. ”It varies from day to day.”
Fred Grau, former commander of the VFW in Lower Burrell and currently the post's secretary, is a volunteer driver for the volunteer transportation service operated by Allegheny County.
“It's certainly needed up in that part of the Valley,” he said. “That whole northern section is underserved. Now there will be some kind of a regular service.”
“Once (veterans) get to a certain age, families don't want them to drive and it gets kind of shaky driving into town,” Grau said. “With all their other problems, dealing with that traffic makes for a nerve-wracking experience for them.”
Zamosky said the veterans should schedule their appointments and transportation in advance to be assured of a seat.
“It is first-come, first-served,” he said. “As long as there is seating available and if they call early enough the day before, we can get them on.”
He said the passengers have to be ambulatory and have the ability to get around. The van can't accommodate motorized wheelchairs, but portable wheelchairs that fold are acceptable.
“We can take an assistant to help, like a spouse, but that would require a note from the doctor,” Zamosky said.
He said the transportation program, to this point, has been operating primarily in central Westmoreland County. All the vans are kept at the county's public works compound in Greensburg.
There is a possibility the service in northern Westmoreland could expand further, depending on how much the new service is used and if there are sufficient volunteers to enable further expansion, according to Zamosky.
Tom Yerace is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4675 or firstname.lastname@example.org.