A round of applause reverberated through the room as a 29-year-old Army veteran no longer has to lace up his black-and-green skates every day to rollerblade 81/2 miles each way for his landscaping job.
Veterans, insurance agency employees and high school choir members watched as Jacob Handy of Bristol was presented with a refurbished blue 2014 Hyundai Accent, as part of Progressive’s fifth annual Keys to Progress program. He said “this breaks the dam for me,” explaining that “since I’ve got out of active duty, it’s been a real struggle for me. This is ... a lot for me.”
Serving in the Army for three years as an infantry soldier in Iraq took a toll of Handy’s well being, he said. After returning, he spent another three years training other soldiers.
Upon retiring from the Army National Guard, he found himself struggling, as his military skills weren’t transferable to every day civilian life, he said. Besides his trek to work, he was only able to see his three children several times a month, needing a ride to get there, after already having missed birthdays and holidays with them.
Just like Handy, approximately 40 percent of veterans live in areas where affordable transportation options are limited, forcing them to travel great distances to receive medical care, reach employment centers and access other services, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
“By receiving the keys to a vehicle ... Jacob Handy is also given the opportunity that he deserves,” said Eric Stone, the regional vice president for Enterprise Rent-A-Car, noting that one of the biggest obstacles veterans can face in life is reliable transportation.
A report, completed by Mineta National Transit Research Consortium senior research specialists, found that mobility limitations for returning military veterans can hinder their reintegration into civilian life, with most participants emphasizing significant obstacles such as their inability to reach medical services, employment and continuing education prospects. The lack of access to transportation can also cause physical and emotional isolation, making reintegration even more difficult, the report said.
Karen Handy said after her son lost his father at “an early age,” he stepped up by becoming the man of the house, joining the Army and fighting for his country. “It’s heartwarming to see some giveback for all he’s gone through. It makes me feel really good,” she said.
Along with being able to drive to work and pick up his children, Handy is also able to go to college, saying, “I have so much that I want to do. I want to take trips with my kids. You know, I missed so much with them. Now I’m able to do a lot more.”