Thursday, January 24, 2008

VA raises mileage rate from 11 cents to 28.5 cents

Veterans get more money for mileage

For three decades, the federal rate for reimbursing disabled veterans traveling to Veterans Administration hospitals for medical treatments was stuck at 11 cents per mile. That was shamefully tight-fisted.

Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan and their families have endured prolonged tours of duty and significant hardships — physical, emotional and economic. Yet in many cases, the benefits they and veterans of other conflicts receive on their return home have been worse than inadequate. In some cases, they've been downright insulting.

The mileage rate was one example. Veterans disabled in the course of service to their country deserve gratitude for their sacrifice. Yet 11 cents a mile was hardly an expression of thanks; it barely rated as a mumble.

Connecticut's U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney has been a particularly strong advocate for increasing benefits on behalf of veterans. On Dec. 21, he wrote a letter to President Bush urging the release of $3.7 billion in emergency funds requested by Congress to boost benefits.

Last week, President Bush released those funds.

Among other things, the money will raise the mileage reimbursement rate for disabled veterans to 28.5 cents per mile. It also provides for the hiring of 1,800 employees to process veterans' claims, eventually reducing the logjam of 400,000 veterans who have been awaiting benefits. The funding will also go toward expanded mental-health care and improved treatment for traumatic brain injuries.

This funding is obviously critical to veterans who need care. But it also sends an important message to all veterans that their sacrifices are acknowledged and honored. For these men and women, even something as straightforward as a 17.5-cent boost in the mileage rate is no small change.

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