Area veterans for years have had problems getting from one place to another. Now, they're about to get a big helping hand from the federal government.
Area officials gathered at the new Lee County Veterans Administration Healthcare Center on Diplomat Parkway Monday, which will be the hub for area veterans to go for health care, to announce the county will receive a $1.4 million Veterans Trans-portation and Community Living Initiative grant that will enable veterans and others to get to where they need to go, medical or otherwise.
"Transportation is often the biggest hindrance for veterans to get the services they need. This provides a real option to connect to medical care and job training," said Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff. "We have some 220,000 veterans in Southwest Florida, and we want to make sure vets know how to connect with this facility."
Attending the news conference Monday were, from left, Councilman Marty McClain; Matt Olivo of the LeeTran Task Force; Colleen DePasquale of the Fort Myers Chamber of Commerce; Steve Myers, Lee County Transit director; Dan Moser of the LeeTran task force and Councilman Lenny Nesta.
Veterans make up 10 percent of Lee County's population, and Rogoff said roughly 68,000 area veterans need access to reliable transportation.
Southwest Florida will get the lion's share of the $2.2 million the state will receive from the $29 million federal grant put forth by President Obama to aid veterans in access to transportation.
Rogoff said that was because of the strength of their application and the partnerships forged to get the deal done.
"The partnership that was established between the VA and Lee Tran and the job training service providers and the Red Cross was why we were able to give a sizable grant to this area," Rogoff said.
Rogoff said the money will go toward kiosks so people can know where the buses go, how they can connect from their home to the VA and other places, and provide real time information so people will know when the buses are coming so they can coordinate appointments.
At a morning press conference, Mayor John Sullivan and other dignitaries lauded the news.
"We're gratified the federal government recognizes the need to help veterans with services such as transportation," Sullivan said. "Everybody has their hand out trying to get the few bucks that are out here. We got the lion's share and I'm happy we got it."
"It is appropriate that we have the opportunity to get this grant around the Fourth of July," said County Commissioner Tammy Hall. "We recognize the importance transit has to our community and especially those who have helped preserve the freedoms we are privileged to have."
Jeremy Gentile, armed forces coordinator of the Red Cross and a veteran, said none of this could have been done without the partnerships created throughout the county.
"It's because of those partnerships. We don't have just one entity. At least 12 organizations were involved. That's what it's all about," Gentile said. "Our community is strong because of these organizations."