(U.S. Senate) – Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester is urging the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to make critical improvements to its Beneficiary Travel reimbursement program to ensure veterans in Montana and across rural America can utilize and access their hard-earned care and benefits.
“Montana veterans and caregivers are contacting my office now more than ever to request assistance with BTSSS [the Beneficiary Travel Self-Service System] and express deep frustration and their belief that VA is keeping veterans from accessing their earned benefits,” wrote the Senator in a letter to VA Secretary Denis McDonough. “Despite a number of improvements and commitments by VA to address the concerns of veterans, Montana veterans and those nationwide are not reaping the impact of those efforts.”
The VA Beneficiary Travel Office provides mileage reimbursement to certain veterans to cover costs for traveling to and from their health care appointments. VA rolled out the new program in 2020 to streamline this service and reduce payment errors by allowing veterans to submit claims online. However, many veterans eligible for the transportation benefit do not have a computer, smartphone, or reliable internet access to submit Beneficiary Travel claims or access the training videos on how to utilize the service.
Tester further highlighted how VA has not taken sufficient steps to educate veterans and Department staff on how to access this benefit through the new system. He urged the Department to make the system more user-friendly for veterans and staff, and to commit to developing a nationwide, in-person training program for veterans and caregivers at local facilities on how to submit claims.
He continued, “For a veteran in Montana, attending a basic primary care appointment can mean more than 100 miles of driving each way to their nearest facility…If they haven’t already, some veterans who have been struggling with BTSSS will give up on accessing this earned benefit…I think we can agree that even one veteran skipping one appointment, because they cannot afford the gas to get there, is not acceptable.”
Read the Senator’s full letter HERE.