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After the country celebrates the men and women who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces Nov. 11, Veterans Day, Carroll County veterans will be eligible to receive free rides to select military hospitals.

The Carroll County Board of Commissioners voted 4-0 Tuesday to begin a pilot program that shuttles Carroll veterans to the Baltimore VA Medical Center and Fort Detrick in Frederick. The board approved using $25,000 from the county's reserve for a contingency fund and a $25,000 grant to pay for the program for about a year.

The pilot program, which was developed by Commissioner Doug Howard, R-District 5, will be a big help to Carroll's 15,000 veterans, according to Mike Sater, with the Disabled American Veterans Department of Maryland. Veterans, who often can't drive, have to rely on rides from family members and public transportation to get to their hospital visits, he said. The program should help alleviate those types of problems, Sater said.

Veterans will be picked up by a wheelchair-accessible van at the TownMall of Westminster, then from the Carrolltown Center in Eldersburg and then taken to Baltimore on Tuesdays and Thursdays, Howard said. On Wednesdays, veterans will be picked up from the Carrolltown Center, then the TownMall of Westminster and then transported to Fort Detrick.

The vehicle that will shuttle the veterans to the hospitals will be supplied by Carroll Area Transit System, Howard said. The trips to the hospitals will be done during off-peak hours, he said. While the ride to the hospitals will be free, Howard said any trips taken on CATS vehicles to get to the pickup points must be covered by the veterans.

As the program gets under way, Howard said the board can look into expanding the number of days the shuttle runs, adding more stops and adding more VA hospitals. After the first year of the program, Howard said the county should have enough rider information to decide the next step for the program.

The program could be expanded to pick up other people in Baltimore County and other areas that the shuttle will already be driving through, according to Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier, R-District 1. Those people being picked up from other areas could pay to use the service if it is expanded, she said.

The approval of the pilot program coincides with Howard's recent creation of the Carroll County Veterans Advisory Council. The council is made up of people from the Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion organizations as well as other veteran advocates and county staff, Howard said.

Frank Valenti, director of the Carroll County Department of Social Services, will head up the council and coordinate the shuttle program.

Commissioner Richard Rothschild, R-District 4, did not attend the meeting and did not vote on the proposal.

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