Tester introduces measure to let VA hire drivers for rural veterans' care


by Martin Kidston

The Department of Veterans Affairs will be able to hire drivers to transport veterans to health care appointments across Montana if a measure introduced by U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., stays intact.

Tester, a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, attached the measure to the Defense Authorization Bill allowing the VA to pay drivers instead of relying on volunteers, who often are in short supply in rural states like Montana and Wyoming.

“Rural veterans earned the same level of care as veterans from urban areas,” Tester said. “Providing them with reliable and efficient transportation ensures that they get the care they earned and that we live up to the promises this nation made to them.”

According to the VA, the new measure would save around $11 million each year by cutting the costs associated with contracting ambulance services or providing mileage reimbursement for vets who drive themselves to and from medical appointments.

While Tester introduced a similar measure in 2010, the VA believed it could rely on volunteer drivers who, in Montana, transport veterans long distances to their medical appointments.

The VA still relies on volunteer drivers, but Tester said there aren’t enough of them to provide the services in rural areas.

The new measure would give the VA the authority it needs to hire full-time drivers and provide better care for veterans.

Last year, Tester also secured 12 new VA vans to transport Montana vets in rural areas and the state’s Indian reservations to health care facilities.

Between October 2011 and May 2012, the Veterans Transportation Service transported more than 43,000 veterans across distances totaling more than 2.1 million miles.