Senate passes key improvements for Montana veterans

Tester praises Senate for raising VA mileage reimbursement rate again

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Jon Tester today praised the U.S. Senate for passing several key improvements for Montana’s veterans, including a significant increase to the VA’s mileage reimbursement rate for disabled veterans who travel to get their healthcare.

The Senate today agreed to raise the reimbursement rate to 41.5-cents per mile.  Tester brought the issue to the forefront last year by successfully raising the rate for the first time in 30 years, from 11-cents to 28.5-cents per mile.  At the time, he pledged to boost the reimbursement rate even more.

The rate increase was part of an overall bill that funds the U.S. Departments of Defense, Homeland Security and Veterans’ Affairs.  The legislation provides $41 billion for veterans’ medical care and research, $1.8 billion above the president’s proposed budget.

“This bill is an enormous step forward for Montana’s veterans,” said Tester, a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee.  “Whether it’s a higher mileage reimbursement or letting veterans get the treatment they need closer to home, this bill is good news for the folks who served our nation.”

In addition to increasing the VA’s mileage reimbursement rate, the measure passed today also sets aside:

  • $375 million to allow the VA to raise the income limit that defines Priority 8 veterans.  Currently, Priority 8 veterans (those who have no service-connected disability and earn more than about $28,000 in Montana) cannot enroll in the VA health system.  The additional funds will allow the VA to increase that income cap by 10 percent.
  • $250 million for a rural health initiative that will allow the VA to increase services specifically for veterans in rural areas, such as telemedicine, mobile clinics, and new clinics. 
  • Full funding for the VA’s minor construction projects, which will allow the VA to begin building a 24-bed inpatient psychiatric facility at Ft. Harrison.  Currently, Montana veterans needing such care are sent to Sheridan, Wyo., or to Colorado.

The Senate passed the measure with a vote of 78-12.  The U.S. House has already passed the legislation.

Tester urged President Bush to sign the bill into law before Wednesday, when the new fiscal year begins.