Hgtn. council hears about new transportation service for vets

The Huntington Common Council was briefed on a new transportation service for local veterans at its meeting on Tuesday, March 10.

Curt Juergens filled in the board on his work as coordinator for the Veterans Transport Network of Huntington County (VTN). A veteran of the United States Army, Juergens explained that he wanted his fellow veterans in the county to have access to free transportation when they have appointments at Veterans Administration (VA) facilities. That desire prompted him to start VTN, which he notes is for veterans who are unable to drive.

Juergens said that VTN currently has two vehicles, both of which are on loan. The service will be getting its own, dedicated vehicle in June, he said, thanks to a donation from American Legion Post 7, totaling $13,000, and grant money from the state, totaling $15,000.
In its first month of operation, trips through VTN totaled 862 miles, said Juergens.

Juergens noted there are several things veterans should be aware of before using VTN. Most importantly, the service’s trips, he stated, are strictly from a veteran’s residence to a VA facility and back, with no stops in between. Additionally, multiple veterans may be transported to a VA site at once, with the VTN vehicle not leaving until the last of those veterans has had their appointment; this can result in some individuals having to wait to return home, said Juergens.

Also, Juergens said that VTN cannot transport veterans with collapsible wheelchairs, although it can accommodate individuals with collapsible walkers. He added that VTN cannot shuttle dialysis patients, and that if a veteran requires physical assistance, they must bring a caregiver with them.

Juergens also cautioned veterans that they are barred from collecting travel pay from the VA’s Beneficiary Travel program when they use VTN.
As an alternative to using VTN, Juergens encouraged veterans to find out if they qualify for special mode transportation from the VA. Provided through the aforementioned Beneficiary Travel program, special mode transportation sees the VA cover the cost of transporting a veteran via ambulance, ambulette or wheelchair van to an appointment, he explained.

Prior to the establishment of VTN, Huntington Area Transportation (HAT) shuttled local veterans to their appointments, doing so for no charge, said Holly Saunders, executive director of Huntington County Council on Aging, which oversees HAT. Now that VTN is up and running, she and Juergens both encouraged veterans to utilize VTN over HAT.

To schedule a VTN ride, call 200-8384 or email huntingtoncountyvtn@yahoo.com. Rides must be scheduled 72 hours in advance.
Council President Charlie Chapman informed council that the Huntington Board of Zoning Appeals had recently approved the placement of a communications tower for Huntington County Dispatch (HCD) at a site on Flaxmill Road, between Schenkel’s Dairy and St. Felix Catholic Center. Chapman explained that this tower will replace HCD’s current tower at the Huntington County Jail.

The current tower was recently assessed, he said, as part of the expansion project at the jail and was deemed to be overloaded and aged.

The benefits of building a new tower in a different location are twofold, said Chapman.

“Moving it from the jail site allows for better construction of the jail,” he said. “They looked at a lot of different options around the county and around the city and it was determined that this site of Flaxmill was the best site for a variety of reasons.”

Of those reasons, the biggest, said Chapman, is that the tower will be located on a hill, which will give it a wider range of communication than the current tower.

In an interview on Thursday, March 12, Tim Allen, HCD director, added that the new tower will be on a piece of land that is 80 feet higher than where the current tower sits. He also noted that the new tower will be 260 feet high, whereas the current tower tops out at 180 feet.

Ultimately, Allen estimated that the new tower will be up and operational in 12 to 15 months.

In other business, council passed an ordinance on first and second reading vacating a 14-foot, unimproved right of way to Bethel United Methodist Church. The church, which is located at 625 Riverside Drive, requested the vacation so that a handicap ramp can be installed, which will extend five feet into the right of way. While the board approved the vacation, the ordinance reserves an easement for the city so that it can access overhead utility wires.