PITTSFIELD: Soldier On, an organization that has been committed to ending veteran homelessness since 1994 with programs in Leeds, Mass., Pittsfield, Mass. and Eastern New York, is partnering with the Berkshire Regional Transit Authority (BRTA) to increase veteran access to public transportation. Congressman John Olver and Senator Scott Brown announced that the BRTA will receive a $2 million grant and partner with Soldier On in the Veterans Transportation and Community Living Initiative (VTCLI).

The grant, awarded from the U.S. Department of Transportation, will go towards leveraging the implementation of a state-of-the-art Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) to also include veteran transportation services and establish a one call-one click call center within the BRTA Intermodal Transportation Center. The grant will be implemented within 12 months.

“This critical federal funding allows the BRTA to enhance its state-of-the-art rural intelligent transportation system,” said BRTA Administrator Gary Shepard. “BRTA is committed to working with community partners like Soldier On and the Red Cross to raise awareness of transportation options and available services for veterans and their families.”

The VTCLI is an innovative, federally coordinated partnership that will make it easier for veterans and their families to learn about and arrange for locally available transportation services. They will have the ability to quickly and conveniently turn to trusted sources for help accessing transportation and other support services.

“This critical transportation funding is yet another way to honor the veterans who have served our country. Connecting our veterans with transportation to meet their daily needs, get to work or visit  a VA Medical Center makes life a little easier and ensures they have access to the benefits they have earned,” said Senator Scott Brown.

With a lack of cars and licenses, veterans face a number of transportation barriers and challenges in Berkshire County. The rural public transportation system has limited frequency and routes and makes it difficult to access jobs and housing. Soldier On has been called upon to respond to these increasing needs. This funding provides the community with an opportunity to expand and integrate other human service transportation needs into a coordinated transportation plan.

“Approximately 4 in 10 veterans live in rural areas with limited access to affordable public transportation. This funding allows BRTA to enhance their services, thereby providing veterans and their families with convenient access to the transportation they need in order to further their education, reach their place of employment, receive medical treatment, and take advantage of a variety of community services,” said Congressman John Olver.

Currently, Soldier On employs resident staff to maintain and operate transportation planning, housing, and service development. Soldier On provides transportation for their veterans to and from their two facilities in Pittsfield, Mass., their facility in Leeds, Mass., school, work, and appointments and services that are not offered where they live. Soldier On and the BRTA currently collaborate on a training/certification program for the drivers who operate Soldier On’s transportation program. This provides a link between Berkshire County, Hampden County, and Albany, NY.

“We thank Congressman John Olver for his support of the BRTA and its effort to expand its service and commitment to veterans in western Massachusetts. The relationship between Soldier On and the BRTA will be a model that will be used around the country that should allow community based veterans to access services from the VA and other designated agencies more easily,” said John F. Downing, President/CEO, Soldier On.

The Veterans Transportation and Community Living Initiative will not only provide veterans all over Western Mass with more efficient and reliable transportation but also provide more formerly homeless veterans with jobs within Soldier On’s transportation department.

Soldier On is an organization that offers veterans a continuum of care that includes immediate and long-term housing, treatment and recovery for addiction, food, and clothing, as well as medical, counseling and job-related services.