Staff and wire report WASHINGTON
Veterans driving long distances to VA health centers will see an increase in mileage reimbursement rates starting today. Montana Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat, sponsored a $125 million provision in a 2008 spending bill to boost the rate from 11 cents per mile to 28.5 cents. It is the first rate increase since 1977, when a gallon of gas cost about 62 cents. “When this rate first went into effect back in ’77, a gallon of gas cost 62 cents,” Tester said in a press release. “A lot has changed since then and it’s time for the VA to start catching up.” President Bush signed the bill including Tester’s provision for a mileage increase in December. Tester said VA Secretary James Peake called him Thursday to say the new rate will go into effect today. Tester says he will push for further increasing the rates to 48.5 cents per mile, the rate federal employees receive. His original legislation called for that rate, and the 28. 5 cents per mile rate was a compromise with Republican members of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, Tester said. The reimbursement rates are designed to assist veterans in rural areas offset rising gasoline costs. Veterans can claim the reimbursement after the first $15.54, or about 54 miles of each round trip, with a maximum out-ofpocket each month of $46.62. Those fees can be waived if the case of financial hardship. Montana Commander of the Military Order of the Purple Heart LaFountain said in the press release that disabled veterans have been waiting decades for the rate increase to happen. He added that the issue had a high priority during listening sessions Tester held with veterans around the state.