Local vet hopes answered in bus stop dilemma

MANATEE — At 81, Bayshore Gardens resident Art Andreasen had reached a point in his life where he tried not to sweat the details.

But there was one thing that irritated this Korean War veteran.

The Manatee County Area Transit bus driver who took him east along State Road 64 for his morning doctor appointments had a fixed route and couldn’t pull his bus off the highway to drop Andreasen or any other elderly or infirm person closer to the new Bradenton VA Clinic near Morgan Johnson Road.

When he got off the bus, Andreasen had to push his walker 624 feet up a grade from MCAT’s bus stop right on State Road 64 to the VA Clinic, which is near the Social Security Administration in Morgan Johnson Office Park.

“It’s a little far,” Andreasen said earlier this week after getting off the blue bus at 9:10 a.m. “It does get hot. I would love to see the bus go up to the clinic.”

For several reasons, MCAT was not able to get Andreasen closer.

But apparently the Bay Pines VA Healthcare System is coming through for the former U.S. Army soldier.

“Art didn’t realize that through the VA, he is entitled to be picked up and taken to the door for his medical appointments,” Andy Huffman, manager of Manatee County Veteran Services, said Tuesday.

Huffman contacted Bay Pines when he heard about Andreasen’s plight, and a VA social worker contacted Andreasen on Tuesday and told him the good news, Huffman said. The VA will contract for private transportation to get Andreasen to and from the clinic.

“He was delighted,” Huffman added.

Andreasen’s story perhaps shows that sometimes those who are entitled to services don’t realize they have them.

Andreasen no longer has a car, having given it up due to his age and health concerns. He is on a blood thinner medication, having had an aortic implant installed 33 years ago.

Andreasen’s daughter works in the morning and can’t take him to the clinic.

Since Bay Pines leases the Bradenton VA Clinic property from Morgan Johnson Associates, it couldn’t ask the bus to change its route, Faith Belcher, a VA spokeswoman, said.

Andreasen thought his only option was to switch his doctor appointments to later in the afternoon, which he didn’t want to do, when a handi-bus was available.

But the 40,000 vets living year round in Manatee County and the 50,000 during the winter can qualify for special privileges, Huffman said.

Huffman said Andreasen is the first vet he has helped in Manatee County with this problem.

MCAT couldn’t allow Andreasen’s fixed route bus to detour into the office park because of the potential for an accident, said MCAT manager Ralf Heseler.

“You have motorists not expecting a 40-foot bus in a parking lot,” Heseler said. “On top of that, where would you drop passengers off and where would you pick them up? Then there’s the issue of the turning radius of a bus and just the whole idea of taking the bus off the highway.”

Andreasen’s situation came to the attention of local officials because of Joyce Stump, a Morgan Johnson road resident.

“I thought it was terrible that the bus won’t drop off and pick up elderly veterans like Art right in front of the VA, but it does go off the highway into the Woodbury Apartments just west of Art’s bus stop,” Stump said.

On Monday, the blue MCAT bus did take a right turn into the apartments before getting to Andreasen’s bus stop.

Heseler said the bus may not go into the apartment complex in the near future because MCAT is getting away from detours off the main roads. The Woodbury detour, however, is on a road — not in a parking lot — and the bus driver has ample room to maneuver, Heseler said.

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 748-0411, ext. 6686.