Walz announces legislation

Published 4:20 pm Monday, August 25, 2008

In hopes of more fairly compensating veterans for the cost of their travel, U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., announced legislation today aimed at increasing mileage reimbursement by 30 cents.

“I’m all for saving money, but you’re not going to save it from a combat veteran,” Walz said to a small crowd of serviceman at Austin’s veteran’s memorial.

“This issue has the potential to unify the nation,” he said.

Calling the bill “moral” and in the interest of national security, Walz said the Veterans Travel Program Reform Act of 2008 would increase mileage reimbursement from 28.5 cents to 58.5 cents for official travel; eliminate mandatory veteran deductibles; and remove income, pension and other eligibility standards.

Introduced July 31, the legislation is awaiting action in the House Veterans’ Affairs committee.

“We should just say, ‘What is it going to take?’ And then doing it in a fiscally responsible manner,” Walz said.

It’s a welcome change, according to local veterans, who admitted hardship because of the cost of travel, particularly for medical care.

The closest veteran’s hospital is 100 miles away in Minneapolis, and, at current rates, the trip can feel cost prohibitive because of spiking gas prices, they said.

“For once a politician listened to what we had to say,” said Ken Delano, a former Army police officer who receives treatment for permanent injuries in the Twin Cities.

Delano said he made 19 trips to the Twin Cities last year alone, and, while he’s very satisfied with his care, he’s seen the effect high gas prices on his pocketbook despite best efforts to add efficiencies, such as stacking appointments.

“The law is there, this makes it fair,” said the Army officer of 11 years.

Norm Hecimovich, local veteran and city council member, agreed.

He said veterans unfairly lose money when going to doctor’s appointments because of the archaic rate and gave other examples of unjust governmental policy on veteran’s issues.

“We have been penalized more and more times,” he said.

Walz emphasized the same, saying that veterans should not be forced to fight their government after returning from war. He noted that, at one time, policy changes to the reimbursements made Mower County veterans earning $29,000 or more ineligible for mileage.

“It is a big deal,” he said. “It’s financially a big deal, and it’s about how do we care for our veterans.”

This year, the Department of Veterans Affairs changed mileage reimbursement from 11 cents to 28.5 cents a mile. A second action by the U.S. House as part of its annual Military Construction/Veterans Appropriations bill would increase it further to 41 cents.

In his first term for the 1st Congressional District, Walz is seeking another two-year term in office this election year.

A member of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Walz has championed several similar bills, including the “Veterans Pain Care Act” and a “historic” expansion of the Montgomery G.I. Bill.