Tester: President will decide fate of vets’ legislation

Funding for Tester’s VA mileage reimbursement included in overall spending bill

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – America’s disabled veterans will finally see an increase in their mileage reimbursement rate when they travel for health care, as long as President Bush signs an overall spending bill now working its way through Congress.  The measure is expected to pass the U.S. Senate as early as tonight.

Senator Jon Tester included a $125 million provision in the 2008 spending bill to pay for a 250% increase in the Veterans’ Administration’s mileage reimbursement rate.  Currently, the VA reimburses disabled veterans only 11-cents for every mile they travel to a VA facility for health care—a rate that hasn’t changed since 1977.  Tester’s legislation raises that rate to 28.5-cents per mile.


“Fair mileage reimbursement isn’t a benefit—it’s a promise we owe all disabled vets,” Tester said. “My measure is simply about living up to the promise we make to all folks in uniform.  It’s about time we stop making disabled veterans in rural Montana pay out of pocket every time they have to see a doctor.”


Tester’s original legislation 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.


“This is a step in the right direction,” said Tester, who over the past year has held listening sessions for vets across Montana.  “But make no mistake, we’re going to keep pushing to get the reimbursement rate up to the level disabled vets deserve.”


The overall funding bill also includes:

  • $43.1 billion for the VA for vets’ claims and benefits ($3.7 billion more than what President Bush requested).
  • $2.9 billion for mental health care for veterans.
  • $124 million to hire additional VA employees to reduce the backlog of veterans’ health care claims.


The overall funding bill includes 11 different bills to fund the federal government.  It also includes nearly $112 million for Montana-specific projects.


The bill is expected to be amended in the Senate.  If that happens, it must go back to the House a final time before going to the President’s desk to be signed into law.