Senator Jon Tester is making life a little easier for the nation's most disabled veterans.
Tester is introducing a bill that would require the Department of Veterans Affairs to reimburse travel costs for all catastrophically disabled veterans, such as those suffering from spinal cord injuries, blindness, or multiple amputations. The VA currently does not reimburse travel costs for severely disabled veterans if their injuries are not directly connected to their military service.
Tester says that without reimbursement many veterans, particularly those from rural states like Montana, cannot afford to travel to visit specialized care facilities that may be hundreds of miles away.
"Veterans made tremendous sacrifices for this country and they shouldn't have to choose between getting the care they need and paying their bills," said Tester, Montana's only member of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee. "This bill will ensure that more severely disabled veterans can lead healthier lives without worrying about the cost of their health care."
Tester's bill, which is supported by the Blinded Veterans of America, Disabled American Veterans and Paralyzed Veterans of America, was inspired by Roy Wheat, a blind veteran from Helena. Wheat was denied travel reimbursement to a blind care center in Tacoma, Washington.
"The only places where I can get the care I need are outside of Montana," Wheat said. "Senator Tester's bill will help a lot of vets I know who want to access the care they earned, but can't afford to travel thousands of miles to get it."
One of Tester's first successes when he joined the Senate in 2007 was to increase the disabled veterans' mileage reimbursement rate for the first time in 30 years. More recently, he introduced a bipartisan bill that will give 100-percent disabled veterans the right to fly on military aircraft at no cost if there is space available.