Tester’s veterans’ health care improvements pass major hurdle

Increased mileage rate among measures approved by VA Committee

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Traveling across the state to receive VA health care will become easier for tens of thousands of Montana veterans, under several measures by Senator Jon Tester that passed the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee today.

The VA Committee approved Tester's proposal to increase the mileage reimbursement rate for disabled vets who have to travel for VA health care.  Previous attempts to increase the travel reimbursement rate never passed the VA Committee.

Tester's plan calls for increasing the VA's travel reimbursement rate by more than 250%, from 11-cents to 28 ½ cents per mile.  The measure also allows the VA to increase that rate to 48 ½ cents per mile in the future.  It's the first rate increase in 30 years.

"Packing up and driving a few hundred miles across Montana for an appointment isn't easy, and it isn't cheap," said Tester, who sits on the Veterans Affairs Committee.  "This levels the field for a lot of vets who deserve access to quality health care, no matter where they live.  And it's long overdue."

The VA Committee also approved a plan by a bipartisan trio of senators, including Tester, to create a $6 million grant program to give more transportation options to vets who live in rural areas.  It also gives the VA authority to create pilot projects aimed at expanding health care in rural areas.

Tester's health care improvements are included in S. 1233, a comprehensive veterans' health care improvement bill.  The bill also requires the VA to improve research and services for veterans who suffer fromtraumatic brain injury.  And it allows Priority 8 veterans to once again sign up for VA health care.  Priority 8 vets have no service-connected disabilities and, without dependents, earn more than $27,790 per year.  President Bush barred them from the VA system in 2003.

Other measures approved today by the VA Committee include:

  • An     annual cost-of-living increase (S. 423) for disabled vets who rely     on the government compensation.  Tester has cosponsored legislation     that would make this increase automatic every year, so veterans don't have     to repeatedly ask for the funding they need and deserve.
  • A bill     calling on the Veterans Administration to establish new suicide     prevention programs (S. 479).
  • A bill     improving benefits for disable veterans (S.1315).

All legislation approved today now goes to the full Senate for consideration.