Trump’s VA hiring freeze hurting Montana vets, Tester says

U.S. Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) speaks during an interview with Reuters in Billings, Montana August 16, 2012. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith

By Missoula Current

Sen. Jon Tester this week asked the secretary of Veterans Affairs to hire an additional employee in Montana to process reimbursement payments for veterans who travel to and from their doctors’ visits.

Tester said VA Montana has been unable to hire an additional claims processor because of the hiring freeze implemented by the Trump Administration earlier this year.

Because of the freeze, Tester said, the backlog of travel claims in Montana has grown to over 8,000 and some reimbursement claims are now six weeks old.

“In a highly rural state like Montana, veterans depend on reimbursements for the costs of transporting themselves great distances in order to receive health care,” Tester said in his letter to Secretary David Shulkin. “A six week delay in processing claims is an excessive financial burden for these veterans, many of whom make multiple travel claims per month.”

Veterans have said they are not given receipts from automated travel pay kiosks at the VA, or after they visit the travel pay office in person. Without the receipts, Tester said, Fort Harrison has no record of their claims.

“This is inexcusable, and I’m sure you would agree that no veteran should leave a VA facility without proof of the claim they have filed,” Tester wrote in his letter.

“I urge you to better ensure that VA staff is trained and equipped to ensure the kiosks in their facilities are fully capable of producing receipts, that kiosks can provide electronic receipts via email, that the kiosks be modified to store more than 30 days of claims data, and to develop protocols for VA Travel Offices to provide receipt of claims for those veterans filing in person.”

The very first bill that Tester got signed into law as a U.S. Senator was legislation to increase the travel reimbursement from $0.11/mile to $0.285/mile.

The current reimbursement rate is $0.415/mile.