Military veterans living in Socorro County may now take advantage of a no-cost transportation service provided by the New Mexico Department of Veterans Services.

According to Diane Mourning Brown, Division Director for Healthcare Coordination, the program is made possible through a grant awarded to NMDVS by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ Highly Rural Transportation Grants Program.

Grant funding makes it possible for veterans in highly rural areas to get no-cost transportation to the VA in shuttles like this one.
Courtesy photo

“This is specifically for veterans in ‘highly rural areas’ who have trouble getting VA health care due to the lack of available transportation options,” Mourning Brown said. “Transportation is a huge need among states like New Mexico with a very high rural residency. We also serve pueblos and tribal communities.”

The VA defines a highly rural area as a county with fewer than seven people per square mile. Fifteen counties in New Mexico fall in that category. Besides Socorro and Catron, veterans in Sierra, Torrance, Colfax, Union, Mora, Harding, San Miguel, Quay, Guadalupe, Cibola, Lincoln, DeBaca and Hidalgo also qualify.

“This program started three years ago and provides free round-trip service for veterans to and from their homes, and any VA or VA-approved medical appointment,” she said. “Round-trip rides will also be provided to veterans for any VA preauthorized appointments at non-VA community-based outpatient clinics.”

This includes confirmed appointments for COVID-19 vaccines. Neither the New Mexico Department of Health nor the New Mexico VA Health Care System is administering COVID-19 vaccines to anyone who did not pre-register and has a confirmed appointment.

Mourning Brown said driver vendors can provide vehicles that are wheelchair accessible and “can also accommodate oxygen users, especially for longer distances.”

Veterans must make a reservation for these free round-trip rides at least three days in advance of a medical appointment by calling DVS at 505-429-5906 Monday through Friday from 9 a.m.-5 p.m.

“Upon pickup, veterans will be required to show proof of veteran status to the driver – who, per COVID-19 safety protocol – will be wearing a mask,” Mourning Brown said. “Veterans will also be required to wear a face mask for the duration of the trip.”

Until recently, the Socorro Chapter of Disabled American Veterans has routinely provided transportation for veterans to the Albuquerque VA hospital, but that service hasn’t been used for the lack of volunteer drivers, according to DAV member Peter Romero.

Romero said prospective drivers may call him at 575-517-1001.