For many North Texas veterans, lack of transportation is one of the main impediments to accessing services, getting medical care or holding jobs, according to an extensive survey released Tuesday by a coalition of nonprofits that serve veterans in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
Texas attracts veterans from across the country with its generous education benefits and flourishing job market, and more than 1.6 million currently call the Lone Star State home, about a quarter living in the Dallas-Fort Worth region.
A needs assessment commissioned by the North Texas Veterans Funders Collaborative — a group of 10 nonprofits that serve more than 386,000 veterans in the 13-county region around Dallas-Fort Worth — interviewed veterans, organized discussions of advocacy groups and analyzed data from the U.S. Departments of Veterans Affairs and Defense.
Many of its findings echo what veterans encounter in other parts of the state and country: a lack of collaboration between community and county-level services, homelessness and the VA’s shortage of well-woman specialists for female veterans. But the long distances veterans in the region must travel to obtain care and hold jobs was paramount.
“The transportation issue emerged to me as a much larger impediment than I had anticipated,” said Michelle Monse, president of the King Foundation, a charitable organization that is part of the collaborative.
Monse said it comes down to geography and a lack of regional collaboration; two city centers are 30 miles apart, but there is no coordination of services or outreach to rural areas.
“Because so much of the services are provided at the county level, perhaps if we can get more cooperation and referrals between the counties and the veterans service officers, [it] might solve the transportation issue too,” she said.
Kate Kidder, with the Center for A New American Security, the D.C.-based think tank that conducted the assessment, said the transportation barriers are compounded in outlying areas because of the older population.
“You have veterans that live out in Hood County, Texas, they go to the same VA as those that live in downtown Dallas,” she said. “You see a confluence of a lack of public transportation [in rural areas], increased health needs because they are older and an inability to drive.”
Kidder said Texans’ passion to serve veterans stood out during the six months she worked on the assessment. “The desire to effectively help vets in the region was so high, it’s just a matter of getting the right folks in the room to talk to each other and see how they can leverage each other’s strengths,” she said.
A Tuesday forum in Dallas will bring together the region’s key veterans advocacy groups to discuss the report’s findings.
“I hope with receiving the same information at the same time, that really will spur not just conversation but some sort of concerted action toward improving services for veterans,” Monse said.
While the report itself does not identify solutions, Monse hopes the assessment will serve as a tool for lawmakers to identify potential legislation ahead of the next legislative session in 2017.