Mr. BARROW. Mr. Chairman, this amendment will make good on a 50-year old promise that has been neglected in this country for 30 years now. For over 50 years, this government has promised veterans that they would be reimbursed for the full out-of-pocket costs they incur in traveling to and from medical care that they receive. For the first 20 years, this government kept that promise. Every time the civil service mileage rate went up, the veterans' reimbursement rate went up.
But for the last 30 years, that promise has not been kept. The mileage rate for veterans traveling to get their medical treatment hasn't gone up, hasn't changed one bit since 1977. The rate for vets is the same $0.11 per mile today that it was in 1977. In 1977, civil servants got $0.11 and vets got $0.11. But, today, civil servants get 48.5 cents for every mile they drive their car. But vets still get the same $0.11 they got back in 1977.
That is not all. Since then, Congress has tacked on a $6 deductible for vets that doesn't apply to civil servants. When you add it all up, you have got to travel over 50 miles to get the free medical care you have been promised before you will get one dime of reimbursement from the Federal Government. And if you have to travel as much as 500 miles, you get a lousy 48 bucks back in return.
The reason for this problem is simple. When Congress made this promise way back in the 1950s, it passed a law that authorized the VA to keep up with changes in the cost of travel, to keep up with inflation, but it didn't require the VA to do anything about it. And since 1977 nothing has been done about it.
My amendment will fix that by doing two things. First, it will eliminate the $6 deductible, round-trip deductible that applies to vets but not to civil servants; and, second, it will mandate that the mileage reimbursement rate for veterans traveling to and from medical care will go up every time the rate goes up for civil servants. There will be no more having to remember vets when they raise the reimbursement rate for civil servants, and there will be no more forgetting vets every time they
are entitled to an increase in the reimbursement.
This legislation has the support of the Disabled American Veterans, the Paralyzed Veterans of America, the American Legion, AMVETS, Vietnam Veterans of America, and the Military Order of the Purple Heart.
This amendment is about making good on a promise we made to our veterans, and I urge my colleagues to vote in support.
On a personal level, I want to thank the chairmen of the committees of jurisdiction in this matter. I also want to thank the staffs of the committees on Armed Services and Veterans' Affair and the staff of the Rules Committee.
And I want to thank Mr. Moran for his kind remarks earlier today. He supported this measure in the last Congress, and he continues to support it today. And I appreciate his support very much.
Ms. GINNY BROWN-WAITE of Florida. Mr. Chairman, I support the amendment before us.
This measure would increase the reimbursement rate available through the veterans beneficiary travel program to the level currently enjoyed by Federal employees, including Members of Congress who travel. It would also eliminate the travel deductible, which imposes an additional burden on veterans.
I have been pushing this issue for quite some time now and am happy to see it reach the floor of the House of Representatives. In my district, which spans eight counties, many veterans have to travel long distances to access health care. Considering today's gas prices, one can understand the enormous expenses incurred by those in need of care. Worse yet, with many veterans living on fixed incomes, the current reimbursement rate can seriously harm their standard of living. I know I have been contacted
by many veterans also telling me about the burden that the deductibility imposes on us. It astounds me that in providing this benefit our government holds veterans to a different standard than Federal employees.
I commend the gentleman for introducing this amendment, and as he knows, our two staffs have been working together to put in an individual bill.
I believe that America needs to listen up. It is time for us to fix this inequity and support passage of this important amendment.