Tester Tackles the Backlog of Veterans' Travel Claims in Montana

Senator Urges VA to Fully Staff Montana Travel Pay Office, Improve Recordkeeping

(Big Sandy, Mont.) – U.S. Senator Jon Tester is calling on the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to immediately hire an additional employee in Montana to process reimbursement payments for veterans who travel to and from their doctors’ visits.

After hearing concerns of delayed travel reimbursements from a group of Kalispell veterans, Tester is asking Secretary David Shulkin to take immediate action.

VA Montana has been unable to hire an additional claims processor because of the Administration’s controversial hiring freeze at the VA earlier this year. Because of that hiring freeze, the backlog of travel claims in Montana has grown to over 8,000, and some reimbursement claims are six weeks old.

“In a highly rural state like Montana, veterans depend on reimbursements for the costs of transporting themselves great distances in order to receive health care,” wrote Tester, Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “A six week delay in processing claims is an excessive financial burden for these veterans, many of whom make multiple travel claims per month.”

Tester is also calling on Shulkin to improve the recordkeeping of veterans’ reimbursement claims.

Veterans have reported that they are not given receipts from automated machines at the VA, called travel pay kiosks, or after they visit the travel pay office in person. Without receipts, Fort Harrison often has no record of their claims.

“This is inexcusable, and I’m sure you would agree that no veteran should leave a VA facility without proof of the claim they have filed,” wrote Tester. “I urge you to better ensure that VA staff is trained and equipped to ensure the kiosks in their facilities are fully capable of producing receipts, that kiosks can provide electronic receipts via email, that the kiosks be modified to store more than 30 days of claims data, and to develop protocols for VA Travel Offices to provide receipt of claims for those veterans filing in person.”

The very first bill that Tester got signed into law as a U.S. Senator was legislation to increase the travel reimbursement from $0.11/mile to $0.285/mile. The current reimbursement rate is $0.415/mile.

Tester’s letter to Secretary Shulkin can be viewed online HERE.