Editors note: This article has been updated to correctly state the closest Veterans Administration clinics to Boulder County residents.
A regional program that makes it easier for older veterans to get to the doctor is getting a boost.
With a $120,000 grant from NextFifty Initiative, a private foundation dedicated to improving the lives of the elderly, Gunbarrel-based nonprofit Cultivate plans to expand VetsGo, a program that helps veterans over 60-years-old get to medical appointments.
The rides began in April of this year, and right now serve veterans and elderly family members of veterans in Boulder and Broomfield Counties, in addition to parts of Adams, Jefferson, Larimer and Weld Counties.
“The program was born out of the recognition that there are many senior veterans throughout the region, including Boulder County, who face a significant challenge finding reliable transportation to their medical appointments,” wrote Shun-Luoi Fong, director of communications for Cultivate, formerly known as Boulder County CareConnect, in an email.
Fong added VetsGo provides a round-trip and serves people regardless of their discharge status.
Cultivate previously operated a similar program that provided rides to all seniors, though Fong said it wrapped up in 2018.
“When our medical mobility program was ending, there was a lot of conversation of seeing how we were learning about … even more need than we were able to meet on our end.”
He added that, with the infrastructure in place and many already having used the service, the organization decided to focus solely on the veteran population.
According to Fong, in 2018 before the service focused solely on former military members, Cultivate provided 550 rides to 40 veterans.
With this new influx of funds, which Fong said will come in over the course of the next two years, his organization will be able to expand its reach across the Front Range.
“We’re in Boulder County, we’re in Broomfield County and parts of Larimer and Weld, but we’re also hoping to grown to other surrounding counties,” he said, “specifically Jefferson kind of being on the radar for us as the next step …”
Fong also said Cultivate is looking to increase the number of people the program helps and, since VetsGo is “volunteer driven,” increase the number of people helping give rides.
Cultivate originally started as a Retired and Senior Volunteer Program organization in 1972, Fong said, meaning they received federal money to provide opportunities for seniors to volunteer.
Reaching out to LGBTQ and women veterans is also something Fong said the nonprofit wants to do with the new funds, given the “additional barriers to health care” they face.
And for those at the Denver-based NextFifty Initiative, the program presented an opportunity to invest in a population of people that often go without the care and help they need, while also helping to get elderly people out of the house and engaged with others.
“For us the program really spoke to the need to engage other components to get an underserved population to the medical treatment that they need while also providing that social aspect of it,” said Diana McFail, CEO of NextFifty Initiative. “The door through door component, the trained volunteers and it also had an emphasis on typically underserved populations of veterans, being the women and LGBTQ populations.
“You know, there are very limited services to get people to where they need to go for their medical appointments in a straightforward way.”
Perhaps the most glaring gap VetsGo fills, though, is the distance veterans have to travel to visit Veterans Administration hospitals. Currently, there are no VA clinics in Boulder County, only a Vet Center that provides counseling and psychological services.
The closest — at least for those in Longmont — is in Loveland, while the Rocky Mountain Regional Veterans Administration Medical Center, the only comprehensive VA hospital along the Front Range, is in Aurora. For those in southern Boulder County, the closest clinic is in Golden.
“Some of the counties that (VetsGo) serves, getting to the VA in Aurora is quite a haul,” said McFail.
And Johnny McCray, a Longmont resident who uses the VetsGo service to get to a hospital across town, said the service has helped since his daughter has become tied up with a new job.
“It’s been real good for me,” said McCray before heading out to his appointment.