Tester, Baucus push VA Secretary to increase reimbursement rate . . . again

Senators also urge Secretary to lower deductible disabled veterans must pay

(BIG SANDY, Mont.) – Now that it has been signed into law, Senators Jon Tester and Max Baucus today urged the U.S. Secretary of Veterans’ Affairs to increase the VA’s new mileage reimbursement rate for disabled veterans “at the earliest possible date.”

Last month the U.S. Senate again boosted the mileage reimbursement rate for disabled veterans who travel for their health care—this time to 41.5-cents per mile.

After hearing from hundreds of Montana veterans, Tester last year increased the reimbursement rate from 11-cents to 28.5-cents per mile.  It was the first increase in 30 years.

In a letter sent today, Tester and Baucus also pushed Secretary James Peake to lower the deductible disabled veterans must pay to qualify for mileage reimbursement.  Tester recently authored a measure to lower the deductible from $15.44 to $6 per round trip.  President Bush signed that measure—and the higher mileage reimbursement rate—into law several weeks ago.

“In a place like Montana, traveling long distances for health care is a fact of life,” said Tester, a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee.  “Making these changes happen is the right thing for the VA to do.  Secretary Peake knows Montana and he understands the challenges we have.  I look forward to hearing from him soon.”

At Tester’s invitation, Peake visited Montana earlier this year to tour VA facilities and to host veterans’ listening sessions in Billings and at Ft. Harrison.

“I believe service is the most noble of all human endeavors,” Montana’s senior U.S. Senator Max Baucus said. “This reimbursement increase is about doing what’s right for folks who have put their lives on the line in service to our country. It will make a difference for veterans across Montana.”

Eight other U.S. Senators, from both sides of the aisle, also signed today’s letter to Peake.


The Honorable James B. Peake
Department of Veterans’ Affairs
810 Vermont Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20420

Dear Mr. Secretary:

We write to encourage you to implement the Congressionally-mandated increase in the travel reimbursement rate for disabled veterans to 41.5 cents per mile at the earliest possible date.  We are very grateful for your past support of increasing the travel reimbursement rate to 28.5 cents per mile.  We greatly appreciate your continued commitment to improving the quality of VA services to rural veterans, whose service and sacrifice is every bit as honorable to their urban peers, but who often do not receive the same quality of care at the VA.

As you know, Division E of the conference report accompanying the Consolidated Security, Disaster Assistance, and Continuing Appropriations Act, 2009 specifies that $133 million of the funds provided for Veterans Medical Services should be used to increase the travel reimbursement rate for disabled veterans to 41.5 cents per mile.  Further, Section 401 of P.L. 110-387 re-sets the deductible charged against reimbursements to $6 per round trip.  Re-setting the deductible rate is a vitally important step for rural veterans, and it should be implemented immediately.

Although fuel prices have fallen from their record highs of this summer, transportation costs still represent an enormous expense for veterans in rural areas who live far from VA facilities.  Disabled veterans who depend on a fixed income have been hit particularly hard by continued high fuel costs.  Indeed, several studies have demonstrated that veterans in rural areas are more likely to be in worse health than their urban counterparts because of greater difficulty in accessing health care.

We hope that you will implement this Congressional mandate as soon as possible, and we look forward to continuing our shared efforts to improve the VA.

Thank you very much for your attention to this request.  Please do not hesitate to contact any of us to discuss this matter further.

Tester, Baucus, Thune, Salazar, Akaka, Enzi, Rockefeller, Snow, Brown, Sanders