Northern Virginia has seen a steep decline in the numbers of residents seeking COVID-19 vaccinations, but not everyone can be considered vaccine-hesitant.
Many of them, including elderly and disabled veterans, simply lack the means to get their doctor or a nearby vaccination center, said Angela McConnell, founder and CEO of NOVA Veterans Association. McConnell’s organization has teamed up with the Dulles Area Transportation Association, or DATA, to provide free rides for veterans who lack transportation and need a vaccine.
“We serve veterans who cannot take care of themselves, and need us to fill out applications and connect them with nonprofits for food and financial counseling,” McConnell said. She added that the vaccine program started in July to try to fill the gaps in public transportation.
“There is a demand...There are over 40 different transportation organizations, and 12 gaps in needs. It’s just incredible. It’s been frustrating, as president of NOVA Vets, to see this,” McConnell added.
The collaboration offers vulnerable veterans a vital service, said Luke Frazza, mobility manager for DATA.
“Especially with the Delta variant, vaccinations have never been more important, and the situation has never been scarier, especially vulnerable populations like older veterans who have been trapped in their homes for fear of health issues,” Frazza added. “We think getting them vaccinated as soon as possible will help them integrate into society and decrease their isolation.”
McConnell, who lives in Woodbridge, said many of the grants available to public transportation systems are restrictive or include geographic or age limits.
“It’s been a struggle in our six-year history to see veterans have such difficulty getting around. It doesn’t add up,” she said. “We’ll help any veteran – we don’t want a veteran to see this and not reach out – if they signed their name to help our country and possibly die for it – we will work with them.”
DATA is working with a local taxi company to provide transportation to vaccine appointments. “The cabbie will wait for them while they get their vaccine, and Nova VETS will ensure the follow-through to ensure a second vaccine is scheduled, as well,” McConnell said.
Frazza said the arrangement makes sense because it pairs experts in transportation with experts in assisting veterans.
“They know the veteran world,” he added. “They provide … creative small-scale solutions. I’m thrilled we can combine our talents and expertise to deliver this important service.”