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Alford writes letter to U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs

Exclusive — Today, Congressman Mark Alford has sent a letter to the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, Dennis McDonough, concerning travel reimbursement issues for veterans. In the letter Alford claims that a number of his constituents have contacted him regarding issues with their reimbursement for non-emergency rides to the hospital as well as the new system in place for reimbursements.

Alford notes in his letter that the district he represents, Missouri’s Fourth Congressional District, has a significant military presence since it contains Fort Leonard Wood and Whiteman Air Force Base.

“As members of Congress, one of our top priorities must be protecting those who put their life on the line for this country – our veterans. Right now, the process for getting reimbursed for non-emergency medical transportation is burdensome and unreliable. This is unacceptable,” Alford said.

According to the Veteran Affairs website, “VA travel pay reimbursement pays eligible Veterans and caregivers back for mileage and other travel expenses to and from approved health care appointments”.

Alford specially mentions new policies at the Truman Memorial Veterans’ Hospital in Columbia. The Truman VA is one of only four VA Medical Centers in Missouri and the only one in the Alford’s district. Until recently, veterans at the Truman VA  were able to file reimbursement claims at physical travel kiosks. As of now, the Truman VA has discontinued all travel kiosks, moving the entire process online.

In late February, the kiosks were replaced with the Beneficiary Travel Self-Service System (BTSSS), a completely online portal for veterans to use.

“Through the use of their own smart phone, laptop or home computer, this system allows eligible Veterans, caregivers, and beneficiaries the ability to submit claims 24/7, 365 days a year from anywhere and at anytime,” said Marc Goldsmith, Beneficiary Travel Supervisor at Truman VA, in a press release about the BTSSS . “It also allows users to electronically track the status of a claim request.”

Alford states in his letter that the BTSSS poses a problem for many veterans. Especially for older veterans unfamiliar with the internet and those without good internet access.

Alford also asserts that there are problems beyond accessibility with the new system. When using kiosks, Alford says his constituents expected to see payment in a timely manner, usually within two to three weeks after the claim was filed. But now he says his constituents are reaching out to him because there seems to be a large backlog of claims.

“My team and I should not be receiving phone calls from veterans about the reimbursement backlog at the VA, but we are every day. This is exactly why I am demanding answers from Secretary McDonough. We deserve to know why the VA is not fulfilling their commitment to our veterans. I look forward to hearing back from the Secretary,” Alford said.

Alford ends the letter with specific questions for the department about processing, claims, resources and the return of the kiosks. He ends the letter by requesting a response no later than April 28.

The entire letter can be read below:

Dennis McDonough
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
810 Vermont Avenue NW
Washington, D.C. 20420

Dear Secretary McDonough:

I am writing to you concerned about veterans, including some of my constituents, who are not
receiving reimbursement for non-emergency medical transportation from the U.S. Department of
Veterans Affairs (VA). I have the honor of representing Missouri’s 4th Congressional District,
which has a significant military presence including Fort Leonard Wood and Whiteman Air Force
Base. In addition to these prestigious military installations, my district has a substantial veteran
population that depends on the VA to receive medical transportation.

Several of my constituents have contacted my office to voice their displeasure and concern about
not being reimbursed by the VA for non-emergency medical transportation. On February 4,
2022, the VA announced the Truman VA in Columbia, Missouri would discontinue the use of
travel pay kiosks. Those eligible for reimbursement are now supposed to use the online portal,
the Beneficiary Travel Self-Service System (BTSSS). According to the press release, “Through
the use of their own smart phone, laptop or home computer, this system allows eligible Veterans,
caregivers, and beneficiaries the ability to submit claims 24/7, 365 days a year from anywhere
and at anytime.” This poses a challenge to my constituents as our seniors and those in rural
areas may not be able to access the BTSSS due to difficulty navigating the internet or lack of
high-speed internet. They found it much easier and more efficient using the kiosks, and many are
uncomfortable with the new system.

Before the travel pay kiosks were removed, reimbursements were dispersed quickly, within two
or three weeks. What I have been told suggests there is a serious backlog that is directly affecting
our veterans’ ability to receive reimbursements. Our veterans proudly served our country and put
their lives on the line. It is unacceptable not to provide timely reimbursement to them. We must
do right by our veterans and fix this issue immediately.

I am hopeful you will be able to answer the following questions:

1. What is the average processing time for a non-emergency transportation claim under the
new BTSSS system?

2. How many claims are in the queue and are yet to be processed?

3. Have resources been reallocated from maintaining personnel that handle reimbursements
to another area within the VA?

4. Would you consider returning to the kiosks due to the adverse outcomes we are seeing
with BTSSS?

Ensuring our veterans who selflessly served our country and risked everything are properly cared
for is important to me and the people of Missouri’s 4th Congressional District. Please provide a
response to the following questions no later than April 28, 2023.

Mark Alford