(U.S. Senate) – Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Ranking Member Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) are introducing bipartisan, bicameral legislation to improve transportation services for rural veterans traveling to and from their medical appointments.
The Senators’ Rural Veterans Travel Enhancement Act of 2021 would require the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to expand successful initiatives that provide veterans living in rural areas with transportation services and reimbursement for their travel to VA medical facilities. The bill will also establish a pilot program for providing Beneficiary Travel payments to low-income veterans in advance of their medical appointments, allowing veterans living in rural areas to travel as far as necessary to receive the care they deserve while lessening their financial burden.
“When it comes to accessing essential care and services, far too many veterans in rural states like Montana face a disproportionate number of barriers,” said Chairman Tester. “Our bipartisan bill expands initiatives proven to streamline travel services and benefits for veterans in rural communities, ensuring more folks can get to their appointments no matter where they live.”
“Congress has made great strides in increasing access to care for rural veterans, and we can build on that success by providing assistance for rural veterans who have to travel long distances to make their medical appointments,” said Ranking Member Moran. “This legislation would make permanent successful VA transportation programs, authorize transportation pilot programs for low-income veterans and enhance other public transportation options.”
Congressman Rick Larsen (D-Wash.) and Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) are spearheading a companion bill in the U.S. House of Representatives.
“Veterans should not have to worry about how to get to their health appointments. However, travel is often a real burden, especially for veterans who live in rural communities,” said Larsen, a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee. “The bipartisan Rural Veterans Travel Enhancement Act makes it easier and safer for veterans to keep their appointments and access quality health care, regardless of where they live.”
“Traveling to and from VA medical centers is one of the most challenging obstacles for veterans to overcome in rural Eastern Washington, and it often results in missed appointments for health care services,” said McMorris Rodgers, co-chair of the Military Families Caucus. “Where our veterans live should not dictate their access to care, which is why this bill is so important. Providing transportation services and reimbursement for travel to VA medical facilities will ease this undue burden, improve access to care, and lead to more positive outcomes for veterans in Eastern Washington.”
Disabled American Veterans (DAV) applauded the Senators’ bipartisan effort to strengthen and expand veterans’ access to quality care through improved transportation programs and services.
“DAV supports the Rural Veterans Travel Enhancement Act which would improve access to health care for veterans who have difficulty getting to VA facilities,” said John Kleindienst, DAV National Voluntary Services Director. “We applaud Senators Tester and Moran for their continued leadership to strengthen VA’s transportation programs to ensure that all veterans have timely access to care, regardless of where they live.”
Among its many provisions, the bill will:
- Make permanent the Veterans Transportation Service program, which allows local VA facilities to hire drivers and purchase vehicles to transport veterans to their appointments;
- Make permanent VA’s authority to provide grants to Veteran Service Organizations and state veteran service agencies for assisting highly rural veterans’ travel for health care;
- Direct the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to conduct a report on any fraud, waste, and abuse of the VA Beneficiary Travel program;
- Direct GAO to conduct a report on the effectiveness of the Beneficiary Travel program’s current mileage reimbursement and deductible amounts in encouraging veterans to access care;
- Establish a pilot program where low-income veterans who are eligible for the Beneficiary Travel program can receive reimbursement 48 hours in advance of their confirmed medical appointments;
- Establish a pilot program that reimburses veterans and eligible beneficiaries for travel to appointments at Vet Centers for mental health care and counseling; and
- Establish a pilot program to expand public transportation to facilities that serve veterans.
The Rural Veterans Travel Enhancement Act was first introduced in 2015 by Tester to permanently authorize VA to transport individuals to and from VA facilities for care, and has been reintroduced in every Congress since:
Full text of the Senators’ bill can be found HERE.