"It's a long trip, especially for me, with back trouble," said retired Master Sgt. Casteen, 76.
U.S. Rep. John Barrow, D-Ga., said he is trying to ease his pain and help a million disabled veterans nationwide.
Mr. Barrow stood with about 20 veterans Monday in front of the Augusta Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Centers to draw attention to an increase in the mileage reimbursements disabled veterans receive when they travel for care. The rate, which Mr. Barrow said had not been raised since 1977, went from 11 cents a mile to 28.5 cents a mile on Feb. 1. The VA authorized the change after Congress added $125 million for it, he said.
But Mr. Barrow, who introduced a bill last year to reimburse veterans at the federal civil service rate of 48.5 cents per mile, said he is still pushing for that rate.
"We've got a ways to go yet because 28 1/2 cent a mile is still far short of the actual out-of-pocket expense of driving your car on government business," he said.
Treating veterans as well as government workers makes sense to retired Command Sgt. Maj. Robert Ousley, 74.
"We should have the same rights they have," he said.
The VA also raised the deductible of those trips from about $3 to $7.77 one way or $15.54 round trip. That essentially means patients will still have to travel more than 27 miles each way before reimbursement kicks in, Mr. Barrow said, something he is vowing to eliminate.
"If you're not getting any reimbursement now, you won't get any under the new rate and that's not right, and I won't rest until we get that fixed as well," he said.
The reimbursement is especially welcome in light of high gas prices, retired Master Sgt. Casteen said.
"It costs you about twice as much as it used to cost you to drive here," he said.
Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Travel that qualifies for mileage reimbursement:
- All treatment-related travel for those who have a 30 percent or higher service-connected disability;
- Travel for care related to the disability of those with less than a 30 percent service-connected disability;
- Travel for those receiving VA pension benefits;
- Travel related to a Compensation and Pension exam;
- Travel for veterans enrolled in an authorized Vocational Rehabilitation Program.