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Veterans deserve higher mileage reimbursement

Enzi teams up with rural senators to seek increase

January 16, 2008

Washington, D.C. - The funding has been allocated, the veterans want it, now senators are asking the head of the Department of Veterans Affairs to announce a much needed 17.5 cent increase in the amount disabled veterans are reimbursed for traveling to VA hospitals to receive care, according to U.S. Senator Mike Enzi, R-Wyo.

“The average price for gas in Wyoming right now is $2.83 per gallon. The travel reimbursement rate for veterans was set in 1977 when gas averaged between 60 and 63 cents per gallon. Despite the increase in gas prices the reimbursement rate remains locked at 11 cents. Something needs to change,” said Enzi. 

Enzi’s language, originally introduced in 2001and included in a bill in the 109th Congress sponsored by Senator Burns, R-Mont., S. 996, would increase the travel reimbursement rate for disabled veterans from 11 cents per mile to 28.5. The language was approved by the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and funded up to $125 million through the Fiscal Year 2008 Omnibus Appropriations Act. Now, in order to make the increase a reality, the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs James Peake must officially announce an increase. Enzi, along with Senators Jon Tester, D-Mont, Max Baucus, D-Mont, Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, Robert Byrd, D-W. Va. , Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., and Ken Salazar, D-Colo., sent a letter to Secretary Peake asking him to do what is right for our nation’s disabled veterans and announce the increase.

“Veterans in Wyoming have contacted me about the difficulty they face coming up with the gas money necessary to travel between their hometown and the VA hospital,” Enzi said.  “Being able to access health care is vital and veterans should not have to choose between driving to receive needed treatment and being able to afford other necessities,” said Enzi. 

Wyoming has two VA hospitals, located in Sheridan and Cheyenne .  Veterans must travel to one of these facilities to be treated for health conditions and still be covered by a health care plan that the government provides for them.

A copy of the letter to Secretary Peake is below.

January 15, 2008 

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

Dear Mr. Secretary:

We write to encourage you to provide a much-needed increase in the benefit that disabled veterans receive when they must travel to a VA facility to receive care for their injuries. 

As you know, Division I of the conference report accompanying the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2008 specifies that $125 million of the funds provided for Veterans Medical Services should be used to increase the travel reimbursement rate for disabled veterans. We respectfully request that you make use of these funds by directing the VA to increase this rate to at least 28.5 cents per mile.  

The travel benefit – provided almost exclusively to veterans who are 20 percent or greater disabled – has been unchanged from the rate of 11 cents per mile since 1977.  In contrast, federal employees are currently reimbursed at 48.5 cents per mile. This problem is particularly acute in rural areas, where disabled veterans generally must travel long distances for care.  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 are very grateful for your on-the-record support of increasing the travel reimbursement rate to 28.5 cents per mile, as well as your commitment to study a further increase. We hope that you will take this action soon.

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

Sincerely, 

Senator Jon Tester

Senator Robert Byrd

Senator Sherrod Brown

Senator Mike Enzi

Senator Jim Webb

Senator Bernie Sanders 

Senator Blanche Lincoln

Senator Byron Dorgan

Senator Max Baucus 

Senator Ken Salazar  

Senator Olympia Snowe 

Senator Daniel Akaka

Senator Claire McCaskill

-end-