Veterans' mileage reimbursement rises (Times Argus)

By Josh O'Gorman

Vermont veterans will pay a little less out-of-pocket when they seek medical treatment after the U.S. Department of Veterans' Affairs raised the mileage reimbursement from 11 to 28.5 cents a mile on Thursday.

Independent U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, who sits on the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, said he fought for increased funding to make the reimbursement increase possible.

"At a time when gas prices are now at $3.15 a gallon, this increase in the VA's mileage reimbursement rate is long overdue," Sanders said in a press release. "The cost of travel should not discourage our veterans from seeking the health care benefits they have earned through their service. In rural states like Vermont, this is an especially important issue."

This is the first reimbursement increase in 30 years, said Kenneth Thibodeaux, public affairs officer for the VA Medical Center in White River Junction.

"The budgeting for this competes with direct medical dollars so it's difficult to move those pots of money around," Thibodeaux said. "The reason it happened so quickly this time is that the legislature funded this on its own."

The White River Junction facility is the only one in the state, serving veterans from all corners of Vermont as well as veterans in Cheshire, Sullivan, Grafton and Coos counties in New Hampshire.

Vermont's veterans are not required to come to White River Junction when they need medical care, however, Thibodeaux said. A system of community-based outpatient clinics in Bennington, Colchester, Rutland and Littleton, N.H., allows veterans to meet with doctors for inoculations and preventative care.

"We have a nationally integrated information system," Thibodeaux said. "A veteran can go to any VA hospital in the country if they want."

Thibodeaux estimated the reimbursement increase would affect 1 million veterans nationwide.

While the mileage reimbursement rate has increased, so has the deductible veterans must pay before they are reimbursed. The $3 deductible veterans would pay before the reimbursement increase has more than doubled to $7.77. Veterans seeking reimbursement for a round-trip visit to the doctor must now pay $15.64, up from $6.

The monthly deductible cap also jumped from $18 to $46.62. Veterans' Affairs said that these ded