Administrative Determination of Eligibility for Veterans’ Beneficiary Travel Reimbursement

Headnotes: 

The Veterans Administration (VA) has discretion to determine on a case-by-case basis whether VA beneficiaries should be reimbursed for transportation costs incurred in connection with their receipt of VA medical care, and is not required to do so in all cases.

The permissive statutory term “may,” used to describe the VA’s administrative authority to reimburse transportation costs, should be interpreted in light of its plain meaning unless the legislative history reveals that such an interpretation would lead to absurd results, or consequences obviously at variance with the policy of the statute as a whole. The legislative history of the Veterans’ Benefit Act of 1957 and its predecessor statutes is ambiguous with respect to Congress’ intent in using the word “may” in the 1957 Act, and is thus not sufficiently compelling to contradict the plain language of the statute.

Notwithstanding the VA’s consistent interpretation of the relevant provisions since 1957 to mandate travel reimbursement, legislative ratification of this administrative interpretation in subsequent amendments to the statute will not be found in the absence of clear and unambiguous congressional acceptance of the VA’s position.

Updated July 9, 2014