Free Uber, Lyft Rides for Vets Program Will End in May. The VA Is Pleading with Congress to Extend It.

A ride share car displays Lyft and Uber stickers.
In this Jan. 12, 2016, file photo, a ride share car displays Lyft and Uber stickers on its front windshield in downtown Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)

The Department of Veterans Affairs wants to extend a pandemic-era program that has provided more than 750,000 Uber or Lyft rides for veterans so they could get to their jobs, attend medical appointments or access support services.

The VA began offering rideshare benefits to homeless veterans in August 2021 following passage of the fiscal 2020 Johnny Isakson and David P. Roe, M.D., Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvement Act, which temporarily authorized the program.

Under the legislation, homeless veterans could contact the VA's National Call Center for Homeless Veterans to access resources, including rides from services like Uber and Lyft. The VA also provided the benefit to other veterans who did not otherwise qualify for free transportation under other VA programs.

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But the rideshare benefit was tied to the declaration of the public health emergency for COVID-19, which will sunset on May 11.

Without the authorization to continue the program, it will end, VA Under Secretary for Health Dr. Shereef Elnahal told reporters Tuesday.

"This is a service that I'm concerned will really hit these veterans hard because they have depended on this rideshare program since August of '21," Elnahal said in a roundtable. "We need Congress to help us out with this."

According to Elnahal, the VA has provided more than 750,000 rides to veterans, including 460,000 for homeless veterans and 66,000 for veterans to attend intensive outpatient therapy and regular mental health appointments.

According to Elnahal, the ridesharing program fills a gap for vulnerable veterans who aren’t eligible for the transportation services program. To qualify for reimbursement of travel expenses for VA or non-VA health care appointments, veterans must either have an appointment for a service-connected condition; a 30% disability rating or higher; or a VA pension; or fall below certain income thresholds.

Many don't meet those parameters.

"Overwhelmingly, the homeless veterans program has benefited from this," Elnahal said. "It's allowed for better and more convenient service to veterans experiencing homelessness and ultimately getting permanent housing."

Elnahal added that the VA already has the funding to continue the program but needs permission from Congress to extend it past the end of the emergency pandemic measures.

Other VA homeless veteran programs that will end May 11 include one that gives the VA flexibility to use appropriated funds for food, shelter, goods and services for the homeless or those who use housing vouchers, as well as temporary waivers that broadened eligibility for the Supportive Services for Veterans Families, a program that provides grants to organizations to keep veterans in their homes.

The May 11 deadline doesn’t give Congress much time to act. Rep. Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick, D-Fla., has introduced legislation that would make permanent some of the provisions, including transportation, that were extended to VA homeless programs during the pandemic. That legislation has been forwarded by the House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity to the full committee. However, moving legislation from committee to a full vote typically takes weeks, if not months.

The VA previously has pressed for an extension of COVID-19 emergency measures that allowed its providers to prescribe an array of medications, including controlled substances, across state lines.

The Drug Enforcement Administration has proposed allowing certain prescribing practices to continue, for controlled non-narcotic prescriptions and buprenorphine for opioid use disorder without an in-person consult.

VA Secretary Denis McDonough has said the proposed rule was an "important first step" to continuing to treat veterans across state lines.

"I really want to underscore this point that we need help from Congress to be able to continue as robustly as we currently do prescribing across state lines. We need legislative relief from Congress," McDonough said during a press conference March 2.

– Patricia Kime can be reached at

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