For Veterans Day, here's a lack-of-progress report on the shamefully low 11-cents-a-mile travel benefit for disabled or poor veterans, a figure that hasn't been updated in 29 years. As explained here previously, vets who have to drive far for service-related medical care receive less than one quarter of the 48.5-cents-a-mile travel reimbursement that federal and most private-sector workers get for business junkets.
Vets would get a boost to 28.5 cents a mile under the $64.7 billion Veterans Administration and Military Construction budget bill for 2008. Late last week, Senate Republicans sliced that bill away from a larger labor and health and human services bill that is destined for a veto. But here's the funny way Washington works: Even though the Democratic Congress and President Bush both say they support the VA bill, it's going nowhere fast. Congress gave the VA some more money in a temporary budget bill now awaiting the president's signature. It gave the VA, in fact, as much money as the president originally said he wanted for the agency for 2008 but not the historic 15 percent hike that both the House and Senate have approved.
Yet the Democrats are not rushing to send their actual budget bill to the White House because the president wants them to offset that $4 billion in new vets spending by cutting programs elsewhere. And so it goes. The VA probably will get more money for now, but it won't be spent offsetting spiraling gasoline costs for vets.
And how fast are they spiraling? AAA now puts the average U.S. pump price at $3.10 per gallon, up 34 cents in one month, 88 cents in one year.