Your Mileage (Reimbursement) May Vary

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Over the past five years, the cost of reimbursing eligible veterans for travel expenses associated with getting medical care at Department of Veterans Affairs facilities has more than doubled, to nearly $1 billion annually, the Government Accountability Office reports.

Much of the growth in the Beneficiary Travel Program, the VA inspector general noted earlier this year, is due to an increase in mileage reimbursement. For 30 years, eligible veterans got 11 cents a mile to travel to the VA for health care. In February 2008, the VA boosted it – under orders from Congress — to 28.5 cents.

Nine months later, the VA boosted it again – again, at congressional behest — to 41.5 cents per mile.

“In December 2009, VHA [Veterans Health Administration] reported that since the November 2008 mileage rate increase, mileage claims increased 76 percent with a 30 percent increase in the number of veterans claiming travel reimbursements, the IG said. “VHA also estimated that if all veterans eligible for reimbursement sought reimbursement for their mileage, VA would incur expenses in excess of $1.5 billion per year.”

The VA has said the travel-payments program is “a program that is susceptible to significant improper payments,” and pegged them at $71 million last year. Vets seeking reimbursements sometimes use false addresses, carpool or take public transit to VA facilities and file for such payments even though they are not entitled to them.