Tester: An ‘historic day’ for disabled veterans

Senator secures first VA mileage reimbursement increase in three decades

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Disabled veterans who have to travel for health care will finally see a 250 percent increase in their VA mileage reimbursement rate beginning tomorrow, Senator Jon Tester announced today.

Tester championed the increase—the first since 1977—after listening to concerns of veterans in Montana.  He included a $125 million provision in the 2008 spending bill to boost the rate from 11 cents per mile to 28.5 cents per mile.  President Bush signed the legislation last month.

Veterans Affairs Secretary James Peake called Tester today to tell him that veterans will start receiving the 28.5-cent reimbursement rate beginning tomorrow, February 1.

"When this rate first went into effect back in '77, a gallon of gas cost 62 cents," Tester said. "A lot has changed since then and it's time for the VA to start catching up.  This is a historic day for disabled veterans.  And it should show veterans in every corner of this country that we're serious about making good on the promise that we made to them."

Tester, a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, originally introduced legislation that called for increasing the VA's mileage reimbursement to the same rate federal employees receive—currently 48.5 cents per mile.  In a compromise, Republican members of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee trimmed the rate to 28.5 cents per mile.

Tester said he will continue to push for increasing the VA's mileage reimbursement rate to the same rate government employees receive.  He will also work to eliminate the deductible disabled veterans pay in order to get their mileage reimbursement.

"Make no mistake, this is a historic step in the right direction," Tester said.  "But we must keep working until every veteran in this country receives the health care they deserve.  No vet I've talked to is looking for anything more than what they were promised when they signed up to fight for this country."

"Veterans in rural areas like Montana have received the short end of the stick for too long for travel reimbursements," Sen. Max Baucus said. "I'm proud that Jon fought for the rate increase they deserve and I'll work with him to make sure it's implemented efficiently and effectively."

"We appreciate Jon coming to towns across Montana and listening to the concerns of veterans," said Dave McLean, Montana Commander of the American Legion.  "We know Jon listened, and we're proud he's leading the way on vets' issues in Washington."

Jerry LaFountain, longtime Montana Commander of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, said disabled veterans have been waiting decades for this to happen.

"Jon listened to us, he realized right away it was a priority, and went to work to finally get something done," LaFountain said.