(U.S. Senate) – Chairman Jon Tester of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee released a statement today following a review from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Office of Inspector General (OIG) on significant shortfalls with its veterans’ beneficiary travel reimbursement program, also known as the Beneficiary Travel Self-Service System (BTSSS):
“Access to travel benefits is essential for veterans living in Montana and rural America, where attending a basic primary care appointment can mean driving more than 100 miles each way to the nearest facility. It is totally unacceptable that veterans weren’t consulted before the system’s implementation, leading to many of the problems veterans are experiencing today. The bottom-line is that VA needs to fix this system without further delay, and I look forward to seeing renewed efforts to repair the trust lost from veterans in this process.”
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 fraud and expedite reimbursement by allowing veterans to submit claims online. However, the OIG report found that VA was not meeting either of those goals. Veteran utilization of the new system falls far short of the Department’s 80 percent goal, which the Inspector General cites as largely due to lack of solicitation of feedback from veterans and Veteran Service Organizations prior to implementation. Additionally, due to technology challenges, the Department is still utilizing the old system to expedite processes, which increases the risk of duplicate payments.
Since the program’s implementation, Tester has been leading the charge to make urgently needed improvements on behalf of the nation’s veterans. The Senator led a bipartisan call to VA Secretary Denis McDonough in 2021 to address issues within the new system. He also pushed to make the beneficiary travel system more user-friendly for veterans and staff in 2022.
Last year, Tester also secured a package of veterans’ legislation in an omnibus federal funding package, otherwise known as the Fiscal Year 2023 (FY23) Omnibus Appropriations Package, in his role as a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. As part of this package, the Senator secured his bipartisan Department of Veterans Affairs Information Technology Reform Act of 2021 to increase transparency, accountability, and improve performance of information technology systems and projects at VA, which includes the beneficiary travel program. The omnibus also included Tester’s bipartisan Rural Veterans Travel Enhancement Act, which includes a provision mandating a Government Accountability Office report on fraud, waste, and abuse of the Beneficiary Travel program.