GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A new pilot program is connecting Michigan veterans with crucial transportation services.
Nearly 568,000 veterans call Michigan home. Paul Ryan, who was in the military during the Cold War and is vice chair of the West Michigan Veterans Coalition, said often times veterans’ health is compromised after serving.
“You have Vietnam-era veterans suffering from the effects of Agent Orange,” Ryan said. “You have veterans who are suffering from the negative health effects in Iraq and Afghanistan through burn pits.”
An estimated 7.4% of Michigan veterans are living at or below the federal poverty level, causing transportation to become a barrier when they need to go to a medical provider or work.
“But even a small trip a small trip across town, depending on what your mobility needs are, could be quite expensive if you leave The Rapid service area,” said David Bulkowski, Executive Director of Disability Advocates of Kent County.
In 2020, the West Michigan Veterans Coalition created a program that links veterans with volunteer drivers, but a ride could depend on a driver’s schedules.
“Sometimes they’re available, sometimes they’re not,” Ryan said.
This week, the Michigan Mobility Wallet pilot program was launched in Kent, Wayne, Jackson, Hillsdale and Lenawee counties.
The program’s app gives veterans a one-stop shop for transportation services like public transit, Lyft or Uber, and volunteer drivers.
“The ability to address those transportation challenges for veterans, we thought was an incredible way to start out using a very difficult use case for solving a challenge,” said Valerie Lefler, Executive Director of Feonix Mobility Rising.
The main grant for the program was provided by the Michigan Department of Transportation. Funding from non-profits and outreach organizations will also help veterans load up their virtual wallet and ride for free.
“We have a variety of charitable organizations that support the West Michigan Veteran’s work. We’ll be looking toward them,” Ryan said.
Leaders of the Mobility Wallet say they hope to use veterans feedback and expand the program to others facing poverty in the future.
“So it’s just such a great way for veterans to give back and for veterans to receive those resources,” Lefler said.
Lefler said she expects the Michigan Mobility Wallet App will continue to focus on Kent, Wayne, Jackson, Hillsdale and Lenawee counties for about a year and a half before going into other parts of the state.
If a veteran needs transportation, they’re encouraged to contact the West Michigan Veterans Coalition to become connected to the Mobility Wallet.