Tester Introduces Bill to Improve Transportation Services for Rural Veterans

Senator’s Bipartisan Bill Will Extend Successful Pilot Program in Kalispell

(U.S. Senate) – Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Jon Tester today introduced bipartisan legislation to help rural veterans get to and from their medical appointments more easily.

Tester’s bill will make permanent three successful initiatives that provide veterans living in rural areas with transportation services and reimbursement for their travel to VA facilities, including a pilot program that reimburses veterans travelling to the Vet Center in Kalispell for mental health care. Not only do these initiatives ease the burden for Montana veterans traveling lengthy distances for care, but they have proven to save taxpayer dollars and reduce the number of missed medical appointments at VA.

“All Montana veterans deserve access to the same quality health care, no matter where they live,” said Tester, Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “My bill expands successful and creative initiatives that are helping rural veterans get to their doctor appointments, including one that reimburses veterans who travel to receive mental health care at the Kalispell Vet Center.”

The Rural Veterans Transportation Enhancement Act will do the following:

  • Expand a successful pilot program at the Kalispell Vet Center that reimburses veterans and their beneficiaries for travelling to Vet Centers for mental health care and counseling. 
  • Make permanent the Veterans Transportation Service program, which allows local VA facilities to hire drivers and purchase vehicles to transport veterans to their appointments. Tester created this program in 2013.
  • Extend a Tester-authored grant program that allows Veterans Service Organizations and State Veterans Service Agencies to explore new approaches to provide transportation or travel assistance.
  • Expedite the certification process for volunteer drivers serving veterans through the Veterans Transportation Service.

National Commander of the Disabled American Veterans, Delphine Metcalf-Foster, praised Tester’s bill.

“Many veterans here in Montana are often left in the unfortunate position of having to miss critical medical and mental health appointments due to the expense or lack of transportation,” Metcalf-Foster said. “Through provisions like those included in the Rural Veterans Transportation Enhancement Act, including improving processes supporting DAV’s Transportation Network, we can help to better ensure that injured and ill veterans are not deprived of necessary medical care. DAV greatly appreciates Senator Tester’s continued commitment to veterans and his efforts to enhance their access to care they earned and deserve.”

In 2012, Tester helped implement a collaboration between Montana Health and Human Services and the Montana chapter of Disabled American Veterans to provide joint transportation services for veterans and their families.