One of the benefits veterans might be eligible to receive is financial reimbursement for travel to and from a VA medical center. Since the current system is set up to offer medical care to veterans at specific facilities, the VA allows vets to reclaim themoney they must spend to reach these facilities.
In order to receive the benefits, veterans must track the number of miles they travel to reach a VA medical care hospital or center. They are then reimbursed 41.5 cents per mile minus a $3 deductible each way. They are eligible to receive up to $18 in travel reimbursements per calendar month.
In some cases, the $3 deductible is waived if it poses a financial hardship to the vet. There is also an exception made for those undergoing a compensation or pension examination or for those who must travel via ambulance ora specially equipped vehicle.
Who is Eligible to Receive the VA Travel Pay Benefit?
The travel benefit is not available in every single case to every single person. Those who are eligible include:
- Vets who have a service-connected disability of 30% or higher
- Vets who must visit for treatment of that disability
- Vets receiving a VA pension
- Vets traveling for a medical examination related to compensation
- Vets traveling for a medical examination related to their pension
- Vets with an income lower than the maximum VA pension rate
- Vets who must travel via a special mode of transport, as long as travel is pre-authorized and the vet is unable to “defray the cost” of travel, which is determined by annual income and several other factors related to their overall need for care
The reimbursement program is based on a Fee Based Claims System (FBCS). VA officials believe this improves the management of the Beneficiary Travel (BT) ambulance claims because it allows processors to receive the vet’s reimbursement request and handle it as accurately and efficiently as possible. The system creates a centralized hub for the reimbursement process, allowing for the better collection of data, and analysis and reporting of that data.
How to Apply for VA Travel Pay
The process to apply for reimbursement is relatively simple. You simply fill out VA Form 10-3542, which is the Veteran/Beneficiary Claim for Reimbursement of Travel Expenses. This new form replaced the older one, as well as any local forms vets, had to fill out at one time. This is the form needed no matter what VA facility you visited and should be available at the facility.
You can complete your request by visiting the Beneficiary Travel Office following your appointment or you can call the office or send in the reimbursement by fax or mail. You should do this in no more than of your travel date or within 30 days of when you were notified you are eligible to receive travel benefits.
How Should I Calculate Mileage?
Travel reimbursement is paid according to the number of miles you travel from your home to the closest VA medical care center. It is based on the driving distance listed as the “fastest and shortest route” as determined by Bing maps. It should be noted that the Bing-based system is an update from the old mileage calculations under the Veterans Choice program.
Mileage is reimbursed at the current standard rate, which is $0.415 per mile. For a scheduled appointment, vets receive reimbursement for round-trip mileage but unscheduled visits are only reimbursed based on return (one way) mileage.
How the Updated Travel Pay Policies Affected Veterans
The reimbursement policy has not always operated in the way in which it does today. Unfortunately, there were a number of concerns voiced when the policy was updated.
In the previous system, any veteran who traveled to a VA hospital was immediately reimbursed with money on the day they made their visit. This means if there were any financial concerns about a doctor’s visit, the VA eased those concerns by providing immediate relief.
Under the new program, vets have two options for receiving reimbursement.
Vets who have a checking account are eligible to receive direct deposits into that account within three days of submitting their reimbursement claim.
Veterans without a checking account or a checking account that does not allow for direct deposits receive a check via USPS within 10 days depending on the length of time it takes for the check to travel from the VA to their home.
The updated system was part of a change to the overall update for the Department of Transportation’s payment system. According to VA officials, the update improved problems with fraudulent claims and misuse of funds. It also addressed some security and safety concerns and ensured that payments are made in a reliable manner. Data showed up to a quarter of those receiving benefits under the old system were not eligible for travel reimbursement, despite receiving it.
Not all veterans agreed, though, that the new system was more efficient or more reliable. Many were concerned and those concerns were voiced by veterans’ organizations that felt the change might not be in the best interest of their members. They pointed out that many vets live in rural areas, live paycheck to paycheck, or don’t even have a bank account. They also noted that the system was unfair to people who lacked the advantage of a direct deposit checking account. There is also concern that not all who are eligible will receive travel pay. Some have even said they’d rather the errors occur and vets ineligible for travel reimbursement receive pay by mistake than to cheat any vet deserving of the reimbursement out of what has been earned.
There has also been a great deal of concern voiced in recent years over correcting perceived problems with ineligible veterans receiving travel pay but not correcting serious problems within the VA that have affected the actual physical health of veterans. Many vets and support organizations view the updated pay system as a way to cut corners and protect officials within the veterans’ administration. Some also report significant changes to their reimbursement amounts since the change and believe errors are still being made, despite any improvements.