Department of Veterans Affairs fixes costly typo after 10 News Investigators report

8:48 PM, Sep 5, 2011   |    comments
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ST. PETERSBURG, Florida - Months after the 10 News Investigators revealed a typo could be costing veterans all across the country benefits they deserve, the Department of Veterans Affairs is admitting the mistake.  But they didn't rush to fix it.

A 10 News viewer emailed in a tip that VA Form 21-8416 - an annual medical reimbursement form for veterans and their families - credits just 28.5 cents for miles driven for medical purposes.  However, it should have read 41.5 cents per mile since Congress mandated the change in 2008.

10 News found some veterans in Central Florida, for example, drive thousands of miles a year to receive care at Bay Pines VAHCS, so the reimbursement can really add up.  But Form 21-8416 hadn't been updated in years.

When 10 News broke the story in April, Congressman C.W. Bill Young penned a letter to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Eric Shinseki, citing "the need to immediate update the VA's 'Medical Expense Report' form (VA Form 21-8416) to ensure that our nation's veterans are properly being reimbursed for their travel expenses."

Shinseki responded to Young with a letter that read:

Dear Congressman Young,

Thank you for bringing this issue of Beneficiary Travel to my attention.  This form should have been updated years ago.

The Department of Veterans Affairs' Beneficiary Travel Program mileage reimbursement rate is currently $0.415 per mileage nationally.  We have checked; no one using the outdated form was reimbursed at the lower, incorrect rate.  However, anyone who was will be reimbursed the difference if they present paperwork showing an improper reimbursement.

Thank you again for bringing this to my attention and for your continued support of our mission, our Servicemembers, Veterans, and their families.

Sincerely,
Eric K. Shinseki

While the VA maintains no veterans had been improperly reimbursed, 10 News found several in April, and with 637,000 Americans eligible for the benefit, there are likely more.  However, individual veteran filings are not available to the public.

On August 15, Young wrote Shinseki another letter urging the change and 10 News asked the agency again why it hadn't made the seemingly simple fix.

Less than a week later, Form 21-8416 was finally corrected.

"I think it's sad that it takes a village...to get (the VA) to finally change," said Terry Richards, the veteran who brought the issue to 10 News' attention.  "It's just a shame it took all this."

The VA says it will properly compensate any veteran who may have been shortchanged by the typo.

Connect with 10 News Investigator Noah Pransky on Facebook at www.facebook.com/noahpransky or Twitter at www.twitter.com/noahpransky.  Send your story tips to noah@wtsp.com.

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