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ONTARIO — A state program to provide transportation for rural veterans to reach their needed health care has gone over the million-mile mark in the distances traveled getting those people to and from their medical provides and appointments.

The Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs states in a news release that mark was reached in three and a-half years. It also states the service is crucial to veterans living in “extremely rural” areas, including Malheur County, where the nearest VA medical center is in Boise. Other centers in the region are located in Walla Walla and Roseburg.

Locally, the veterans transportation program is provided by Malheur Express Transportation, operated by Malheur Council on Aging and Community Services.

According to figures provided by Loni Debban, Council on Aging executive director, 17,914 miles were traveled for the period in fiscal year 2017-18 for which figures were available (the first three quarters), with 1,499 trips made.

The grant for veteran medical rides in Malheur County is $45,000, Debban said, but the value of the service provided in the first three quarters was $73,042.

Highly rural counties are defined as having having fewer than seven residents per square mile. In Oregon, this includes Baker, Gilliam, Grant, Lake, Harney, Morrow, Sherman, Wallowa and Wheeler counties.

“Veterans should be free to live where they choose, without having to worry about how they’ll be able to access their VA doctors,” said Sheronne Blasi, director of Statewide Veteran Services for the Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs, in a statement. “This program, with the support of the VA and our incredible partners in these areas, is helping make that possible.”