(a) Under regulations prescribed by the President pursuant to the provisions of this section, the Secretary may pay the actual necessary expense of travel (including lodging and subsistence), or in lieu thereof an allowance based upon mileage (at a rate of 41.5 cents per mile), of any person to or from a Department facility or other place in connection with vocational rehabilitation, counseling required by the Secretary pursuant to chapter 34 or 35 of this title, or for the purpose of examination, treatment, or care. Actual necessary expense of travel includes the reasonable costs of airfare if travel by air is the only practical way to reach a Department facility. In addition to the mileage allowance authorized by this section, there may be allowed reimbursement for the actual cost of ferry fares, and bridge, road, and tunnel tolls.
(b)(1) Except as provided in subsection (c) of this section and notwithstanding subsection (g)(2) of this section or any other provision of law, if, with respect to any fiscal year, the Secretary exercises the authority under this section to make any payments, the Secretary shall make the payments provided for in this section to or for the following persons for travel during such fiscal year for examination, treatment, or care for which the person is eligible:
(A) A veteran or other person whose travel is in connection with treatment or care for a service-connected disability.
(B) A veteran with a service-connected disability rated at 30 percent or more.
(C) A veteran receiving pension under section 1521 of this title.
(D) A veteran (i) who is not traveling by air and whose annual income (as determined under section 1503 of this title) does not exceed the maximum annual rate of pension which would be payable to such veteran if such veteran were eligible for pension under section 1521 of this title, or (ii) who is determined, under regulations prescribed by the Secretary, to be unable to defray the expenses of the travel for which payment under this section is claimed.
(E) Subject to paragraph (3) of this subsection, a veteran or other person whose travel to or from a Department facility is medically required to be performed by a special mode of travel and who is determined under such regulations to be unable to defray the expenses of the travel for which payment under this section is claimed.
(F) A veteran whose travel to a Department facility is incident to a scheduled compensation and pension examination.
(2) The Secretary may make payments provided for in this section to or for any person not covered by paragraph (1) of this subsection for travel by such person for examination, treatment, or care. Such payments shall be made in accordance with regulations which the Secretary shall prescribe.
(3)(A) Except as provided in subparagraph (B) of this paragraph, the Secretary shall not make payments under this section for travel performed by a special mode of travel unless (i) the travel by such mode is medically required and is authorized by the Secretary before the travel begins, or (ii) the travel by such mode is in connection with a medical emergency of such a nature that the delay incident to obtaining authorization from the Secretary to use that mode of travel would have been hazardous to the person's life or health.
(B) In the case of travel by a person to or from a Department facility by special mode of travel, the Secretary may provide payment under this section to the provider of the transportation by special mode before determining the eligibility of such person for such payment if the Secretary determines that providing such payment is in the best interest of furnishing care and services. Such a payment shall be made subject to subsequently recovering from such person the amount of the payment if such person is determined to have been ineligible for payment for such travel.
(C) In the case of transportation of a person to or from a Department facility by ambulance, the Secretary may pay the provider of the transportation the lesser of the actual charge for the transportation or the amount determined by the fee schedule established under section 1834(l) of the Social Security Act ( 42 U.S.C. 1395m(l) ) unless the Secretary has entered into a contract for that transportation with the provider.
(4) In determining for purposes of subsection (a) whether travel by air is the only practical way for a veteran to reach a Department facility, the Secretary shall consider the medical condition of the veteran and any other impediments to the use of ground transportation by the veteran.
(c)(1) Except as otherwise provided in this subsection, the Secretary, in making a payment under this section to or for a person described in subparagraph (A), (B), (C), or (D) of subsection (b)(1) of this section for travel for examination, treatment, or care, shall deduct from the amount otherwise payable an amount equal to $3 for each one-way trip.
(2) In the case of a person who is determined by the Secretary to be a person who is required to make six or more one-way trips for needed examination, treatment, or care during the remainder of the calendar month in which the determination is made or during any subsequent calendar month during the one-year period following the last day of the month in which the determination is made, the amount deducted by the Secretary pursuant to paragraph (1) of this subsection from payments for trips made to or from such facility during any such month shall not exceed $18.
(3) No deduction shall be made pursuant to paragraph (1) of this subsection in the case of a person whose travel to or from a Department facility is performed by a special mode of travel for which payment under this section is authorized under subsection (b)(3) of this section.
(4) The Secretary may waive the deduction requirement of paragraph (1) of this subsection in the case of the travel of any veteran for whom the imposition of the deduction would cause severe financial hardship. The Secretary shall prescribe in regulations the conditions under which a finding of severe financial hardship is warranted for purposes of this paragraph.
(d) Payment of the following expenses or allowances in connection with vocational rehabilitation, counseling, or upon termination of examination, treatment, or care, may be made before the completion of travel:
(1) The mileage allowance authorized by subsection (a) of this section.
(2) Actual local travel expenses.
(3) The expense of hiring an automobile or ambulance, or the fee authorized for the services of a nonemployee attendant.
(e)(1) Except as provided in paragraph (2), when any person entitled to mileage under this section requires an attendant (other than an employee of the Department) in order to perform such travel, the attendant may be allowed expenses of travel upon the same basis as such person.
(2)(A) Without regard to whether an eligible veteran entitled to mileage under this section for travel to a Department facility for the purpose of medical examination, treatment, or care requires an attendant in order to perform such travel, an attendant of such veteran described in subparagraph (B) may be allowed expenses of travel (including lodging and subsistence) upon the same basis as such veteran during--
(i) the period of time in which such veteran is traveling to and from a Department facility for the purpose of medical examination, treatment, or care; and
(ii) the duration of the medical examination, treatment, or care episode for such veteran.
(B) An attendant of a veteran described in this subparagraph is a provider of personal care services for such veteran who is approved under paragraph (6) of section 1720G(a) of this title or designated under paragraph (7) of such section 1720G(a) .
(C) The Secretary may prescribe regulations to carry out this paragraph. Such regulations may include provisions--
(i) to limit the number of attendants that may receive expenses of travel under this paragraph for a single medical examination, treatment, or care episode of an eligible veteran; and
(ii) to require such attendants to use certain travel services.
(D) In this subsection, the term “eligible veteran” has the meaning given that term in section 1720G(a)(2) of this title.
(f) The Secretary may provide for the purchase of printed reduced-fare requests for use by veterans and their authorized attendants when traveling at their own expense to or from any Department facility.
(g)(1) Beginning one year after the date of the enactment of the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2010, the Secretary may adjust the mileage rate described in subsection (a) to be equal to the mileage reimbursement rate for the use of privately owned vehicles by Government employees on official business (when a Government vehicle is available), as prescribed by the Administrator of General Services under section 5707(b) of title 5 .
(2) If an adjustment in the mileage rate under paragraph (1) results in a lower mileage rate than the mileage rate otherwise specified in subsection (a) , the Secretary shall, not later than 60 days before the date of the implementation of the mileage rate as so adjusted, submit to Congress a written report setting forth the adjustment in the mileage rate under this subsection, together with a justification for the decision to make the adjustment in the mileage rate under this subsection.
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