Washington, D.C. – This week, U.S. Representative Matt Rosendale and Senator Steve Daines sent a letter to Executive Director of the Montana VA Health Care System, Dr. Judy Hayman, requesting to exempt critical volunteer services from COVID-19-related requirements to ensure that our veterans do not lose access to their VA care.
Volunteer drivers in Montana are being prohibited from transporting disabled veterans to and from their medical appointments due to their COVID-19 vaccination or testing status. The Veterans Health Administration Directive 1193.01 extends vaccine and testing mandates to VHA drivers, hurting Montana’s veteran population by significantly cutting crucial transportation services in rural areas where the VA lacks infrastructure, sometimes for hundreds of miles.
“It is unfair to keep asking more of these unpaid volunteer drivers. As you and all Montanans are familiar, reaching VA facilities in a state as vast as Montana can be a difficult task, at best. When living with disabilities, it can be impossible without the help of volunteers. One of the complaints we received came from a blind veteran. For him, transportation services are fully necessary, and the community that served him—irreplaceable,”the letter states.
“The implementation of this policy has deeply disappointed our veteran constituents. They have been given two weeks to prepare alternative transportation arrangements, and do not feel like the VA worked hard enough to fill the vacancies that volunteer drivers will leave.
“We ask you to put our veterans before COVID policies. The existing health safety policies that have worked long before the pandemic will continue to work now. We understand that some of these policies may have been implemented for the veterans’ benefit, but it is clear that in some cases such as this, the policy stands in opposition to their health interests.”