Discover who is eligible for the Beneficiary Travel program for travel reimbursement to the VA.
Traveling to and from the various Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical facilities across the country for health care is a necessity for many Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) members.
The VA does provide reimbursement for those travel expenses, but there are some common misconceptions about who is eligible for the Beneficiary Travel (BT) program. Not everything in this article will cover every single person’s situation, but it should help better clarify some things.
The most common eligibility factor for BT is if you’re a veteran with a service-connected disability rating of 30% or more. The second most common factor would be if you’re in receipt of non-service connected pension.
In these two examples, travel costs for care of any condition would be eligible. For those veterans rated at less than 30%, only travel costs related to the care of their service-connected conditions are covered.
There are other situations where travel costs are covered such as emergencies, travel for compensation and pension exams, travel to obtain a service dog and travel in reference to VA transplants and certain caregivers.
When eligible for travel pay, the VA can either pay for or reimburse veterans for travel including: mileage driven, transportation by public transportation (plane, bus, taxi, etc.) and, when medically justified by a VA health care provider, a special mode of transportation.
A common misconception is that payment of lodging, meals, tolls, ferry fares, luggage and parking when associated with travel may be paid by VA. As always it’s never safe to assume these expenses are covered. The VA prefers the requests come before travel occurs and receipts are required for reimbursement.
Normally, veterans are paid for travel to their closest VA facility. However, when the closest facility doesn’t provide all of the specialty care needed and the veteran has scheduled appointments with specialty staff at a VA located further away, the VA will pay for that travel.
For veterans who change their residence while an inpatient at a VA facility, they’ll be transferred to the VA facility closest to their new home.
On rare occasions, the VA will pay transportation expenses for veterans who wish to transfer to another VA where they grew up or where their family resides. Normally, this benefit is for terminally ill veterans receiving care at either a VA facility or at the VA’s expense.
For veterans traveling together, only the owner of the vehicle is incurring the expense, so only he or she would be eligible to receive travel reimbursement.
However, when multiple veterans share a vehicle such as a taxi, then all are eligible for reimbursement and those receipts are required for reimbursement.
If a veteran uses free transportation such as no-cost government transportation, only the expense from the veteran’s residence to his or her place of pickup or drop off would be eligible for reimbursement.
For those veterans who are either VA employees or Compensated Work Therapy patients with the VA and they’ve scheduled an appointment the same day they’re scheduled to work, they’ll be paid at the same rate as other travel-eligible veterans.
Current reimbursement rates are 41.5 cents per mile subject to appropriate deductibles. VA utilizes “BT Dashboard” software in calculating the mileage using the shortest route by distance.
The only exceptions from using this software are when the identified route is impassable (construction, weather, etc.) or is documented to be clinically inappropriate according to the veteran’s health care provider.
Deductibles from reimbursement of travel are currently $3 one way and $6 for a round trip with a maximum of $18 per month.
Some veterans and non-veterans are exempt from the deductible amounts and they include: veterans traveling to compensation and pension exams, veterans requiring special mode of transportation, veterans whom the VA determines the deductibles would cause a severe financial hardship and non-veterans (donors, caregivers and attendants).
The deadline for submission of travel reimbursement is 30 days after completion of travel.
Exceptions to this would be special mode of transportation, which should be requested in advance (except in cases of emergency). For emergency transportation, the VA should be notified as soon as possible and no later than 30 days after travel.
One fact that’s not widely known is that the VA can withhold mileage reimbursement or special mode of transportation from BT when it determines the travel allowance would have a negative impact on a veteran’s care, treatment or therapy.
It’s not known yet how this benefit works with the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014. The VA is still in the process of working on those rules and regulations.
For more information, visit pva.org or contact the nearest PVA National Service Officer from the PVA Service Office Roster on page 60.
Brad Friez is a PVA National Service Officer II in Sioux Falls, S.D.
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