Tester, Colleagues Spearhead Legislation to Improve Transportation Services for Rural Veterans

Bipartisan bill will permanently expand travel assistance programs & clarify requirements for volunteer drivers to connect more veterans to care

(U.S. Senate) – U.S. Senators Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), John Hoeven (R-N.D.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) are spearheading bipartisan legislation to help rural veterans travel to and from their medical appointments more easily.

The Senators introduced the Rural Veterans Travel Enhancement Act of 2019 today, which will expand successful initiatives that provide veterans living in rural areas transportation services and reimbursement for their travel to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical facilities and Vet Centers. The bill will also develop a national protocol for administering medical exams for volunteer drivers, clarifying requirements and streamlining the certification process. Not only do these initiatives ease the burden for 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 veterans deserve the same access to quality health care, regardless of whether they live in Big Sandy or the Big Apple,” said Tester, Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “Our bill expands creative and successful initiatives that are helping rural veterans get to their doctor appointments on time, no matter the distance. I look forward to working with Republicans and Democrats to make sure every veteran has access to the care they have earned.”

“Veterans deserve nothing less than the best health care our country has to offer, but offering them quality care does them no good if they are unable to travel to receive those services,” said Senator Cramer. “Expanding and codifying successful transportation programs would help ease the difficulty of traveling to medical appointments, especially in rural states like North Dakota.”

“We make a promise to take care of our veterans in return for their service to our country, and that includes ensuring they are able to get the health care that they need and have earned, no matter where they live,” said Senator Murray. “I’m proud to join my colleagues in introducing the Rural Veterans Travel Enhancement Act to get us one step closer to fulfilling that promise, and I’ll keep fighting to strengthen health care and federal resources for veterans in rural communities, and in all communities, across Washington state and across the country.”

“Our nation made a promise to care for its veterans, regardless of their zip code,” said Senator Hoeven. “For veterans living in rural areas, transportation can often be an obstacle for accessing VA care. This legislation will allow eligible veterans to be reimbursed for travel to and from Vet Centers and clarify requirements for volunteer drivers. This bill is all about helping veterans in rural communities reach important VA health care services.”

“I’m proud to join my colleagues in introducing this bipartisan bill that will make it easier and more accessible for Veterans to travel to VA facilities,” said Senator Manchin. “I have heard more about travel and transportation from Veterans in West Virginia than almost any other Veterans issue due to the recent change in the state veterans van program back to the Disabled American Veterans transportation network. This legislation will help ensure our Veterans in rural areas have the access to services even if they are hard to get to. This is just common sense and I look forward to passing this bipartisan legislation into law.”

“As a Senator for a large, rural state with the second highest number of veterans per capita, it is one of my top priorities to ensure our veterans have convenient access to medical care and other services,” said Senator Collins. “I am pleased to join my colleagues in introducing this bipartisan bill that will improve transportation programs for rural veterans to reach medical appointments and receive support at veterans centers in their communities.”

The Rural Veterans Transportation Enhancement Act will:

·         Expand a pilot program that reimburses veterans and eligible beneficiaries for travel 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.

·         Extend a grant 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 program.

“DAV has long advocated for all veterans to have access to high-quality health care no matter where they live,” said Disabled American Veterans (DAV) Washington Executive Director Randy Reese. “We applaud the introduction of this legislation as it would help expand the reach of DAV’s transportation network, which provided veterans with more than 625,000 rides to VA medical centers last year alone, to better serve those in rural areas. We are grateful for the leadership of Senators Tester, Cramer, Murray, Hoeven, Manchin and Collins for their leadership in ensuring all veterans can attend their scheduled VA appointments no matter where they might be.”  

Tester originally introduced the Rural Veterans Transportation Enhancement Act in 2015 to permanently authorize VA to transport individuals to and from VA facilities for care, and has reintroduced it every Congress since: 

·         114th Congress (2015-2016)

·         115th Congress (2017-2018)

·         116th Congress (2019-2020)