Nov. 10—HAVERHILL — New, free transportation for veterans meets a long-sought health care need.
Starting Jan. 3, Merrimack Valley Transit will give veterans in 16 towns and cities free door-to-door rides to and from the Bedford veterans hospital and its associated health services.
The MeVa mini-bus will transport these veterans (and family members) on Wednesdays and Fridays.
Reservations must be made seven days in advance and no further out than 14 days by calling 978-469-6878 option #3.
"It absolutely fills a need," says Jaime Melendez, director of veterans' services in Lawrence, home to 1,100 veterans, according to the latest U.S. Census.
"I have guys without a vehicle that scrounge a ride from a buddy then feel bad about it."
The transportation idea arose in September at a MeVa transit advisory board meeting. Bob Snow, of Rowley, a para-transit subcommittee member and U.S. Marine Corps veteran, suggested it.
That same month MeVa brought the thought to the Merrimack Valley Veterans Collaborative, says Noah Berger, MeVa's administrator.
It got a thumbs up. MeVA will fund the rides through its '24 budget.
This is possible, Berger said, due to the increase in funding for regional transit authorities voted by the state Legislature.
MeVA receives federal, state and local funds, and is fare free at least through April.
The transit authority has existing medi-Meva buses for transportation to Peabody and Boston hospitals including the veterans' hospital in Jamaica Plain.
But there are Merrimack Valley veterans who would prefer to receive health and medical services in Bedford, which is closer to home and would take less of their day.
The 16 towns and cities served by MeVa are Lawrence, Haverhill, Methuen, Andover, North Andover, Boxford, North Reading, Rowley, West Newbury, Newburyport, Merrimac, Georgetown, Amesbury, Groveland and Salisbury.
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