Friday afternoon, Rep. Raul Ruiz, Supervisor V. Manuel Perez and local veterans’ advocates convened at Sunline Transit Agency’s headquarters in Thousand Palms to announce a new Veterans Transportation Initiative that, if funded, could help bring veterans to their doctors appointments.
The nearest VA hospital is located in Loma Linda, which sits in southwest San Bernardino County. In eastern Riverside County — a region Ruiz represents in the U.S. House of Representatives and Perez represents on the County Board of Supervisors — the distance often prevents veterans from receiving the healthcare to which they are entitled having served in the military.
According to Ruiz, veterans often have to withstand 12 to 14 hour days just to access 30-minute appointments.
“Local transportation, for some of our veterans, is not easy to navigate and not easy to use,” Ruiz said, adding that available transportation often isn’t accessible to veterans with disabilities, veterans suffering from PTSD who are prone to triggers, and veterans who require oxygen.
Since being elected in 2012, Ruiz has made veterans’ issues a central focus in his office. He has engaged veterans of 20th Century wars and confronted issues specific to veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, such as the respiratory difficulties of ailing soldiers who were exposed to “burn pits.”
He’s hosted community forums and found that, unlike much of what happens in Congress, taking care of the nation’s veterans is one of the few instances Republicans and Democrats agree.
Perez and Ruiz’s offices are joining forces with local transit agencies and VA administrators to remedy the difficulties. They hope that making rides more available for veterans looking to get to their healthcare appointments will help make the system more affordable as well as easier to understand and access.
In his prepared remarks, Perez spoke of his prior work in the State Assembly, where he served on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee along with Col. Paul Cook, the former Assembly member who now represents California’s 8th District in Congress. Echoing Ruiz, Perez emphasized bipartisanship and identified veterans’ issues as one area where politicians can come together and be productive.
The idea was applauded by local veterans’ advocates in attendance, but remains in its early stages. After three meetings, a funding mechanism and implementation timeline still are in question. Perez said he hoped Sunline Transit Agency could gather data that could then be submitted along with grant applications to fund a potential pilot program.
Ruiz said he aimed to “get something within a year,” but had no hard or soft timeline.
But Bill Miller, a retired Mustang officer who lives in Palm Desert, said he was confident.
“Look at what he drew out today — the momentum, the right people. We’ve got everybody together that can solve this problem,” he said of Ruiz. “He’s got clout and Supervisor Perez has got clout to tap the right resources to make this happen.”
“It’s got enough energy and the right people. It’ll work.”