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Otsego veterans' bus cuts off service to Delaware County

The Daily Star - 11/30/2018

Nov. 30--At least three Delaware County veterans face lengthier and more expensive commutes to doctors' appointments at the VA hospital in Albany because of a decision by the Otsego County Veterans Services to limit its shuttle operations exclusively to Otsego County veterans.

Charles Piper, director of Veteran Services in Delaware County, said he has heard from three Delaware County veterans over the past month who were told they could no longer catch the bus at their usual stops in Otsego County.

All three veterans live less than a half-mile from the county line, Piper said, and for years had never been refused by the Otsego County shuttle.

For several years the policy was loosely enforced, Piper said, allowing veterans from neighboring counties to use the Otsego shuttle in cases where its pickup locations were closer to their homes. In some instances, drivers would even make stops additional to the route schedule to pick up veterans directly from their homes.

"It's not fair to Otsego county taxpayers to have to pay for services for veterans from other counties," said Dennis Clark, director of Veteran Services in Otsego County.

Delaware County resident Henry Cook told Piper he rode the Otsego County veterans shuttle twice a week for 20 years until a few weeks ago, when he was informed of the policy change.

For Cook, the closest shuttle stop is the Oneonta bus terminal, about a 15-minute taxi ride from his home in Wells Bridge. The VA reimburses mileage for healthcare-related travel, bringing Cook's out-of-pocket total to about $30 round trip.

In order to reach the closest Delaware shuttle stop, Cook must wake up at 4:30 a.m. to catch a taxi to Walton, where the shuttle departs by 5:30.

At $92 round trip -- only $12 of which is reimbursed -- Piper estimated that Cook will spend $7,680 a year in cab fare alone to reach his designated shuttle stop in Delaware County.

Piper said Otsego County's newly-tightened policy "doesn't pass the common sense test," adding that his department regularly extends its shuttle services to veterans from Greene and Schoharie counties for whom the Delaware stops are more convenient.

"We're here for the veterans, and not just those in Delaware County," Piper said. "If somebody from outside our jurisdiction comes into my office, I'm not going to turn them away."

Clark also cited concern for space in the county's 10-passenger shuttle van as a factor in the decision.

According to Steve Jaeger, who drives the Otsego shuttle on its Tuesday-through-Friday route, the number of passengers varies "sporadically," but drops considerably during the winter months as some veterans travel south.

Clark said he hopes a reimbursement program can be established to mitigate transportation costs for veterans who travel long distances to reach their designated shuttle stops.

Sarah Eames, staff writer, can be reached at seames@thedailystar.com or 607-441-7213. Follow her @DS_SarahE on Twitter.

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(c)2018 The Daily Star (Oneonta, N.Y.)

Visit The Daily Star (Oneonta, N.Y.) at www.thedailystar.com

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