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To meet the needs of disabled vets, Congress needs to expand the Specially Adapted Housing Program
Editor's note: A combat wounded veteran, Ryan served in the U.S. Army as an armor officer assigned to 1st Battalion, 13th Armor Regiment. While deployed to Iraq in 2005, his vehicle was hit with an improvised explosive device buried in the road. He works as the Wounded Warrior Project's national Combat Stress Recovery Program director.
On Nov. 29, 2005, my life changed forever. I was a 24-year-old U.S. Army armor captain deployed to Taji, Iraq, when my vehicle was struck by an improvised explosive device. On that day, I lost two of my soldiers, Sgts. Jerry Mills and Donald Hasse, and I lost my right arm and left leg.
After 18 months of recovery at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, I medically retired from the Army at the age of 26.
With a lot of life ahead of me, I had to re-learn how to navigate my environment. I also had to make my environment more navigable by adapting my home. I knew I would have to widen doorways, make sure ramps were in place, rework the kitchen and bathrooms, among a list of other adaptations.
I sought assistance through The Department of Veterans Affairs' Specially Adapted Housing (SAH) Grant program to help me do these things. SAH grants provide veterans, like me, funds (up to three requests per person, with a current overall limit of $85,645) to assist with the purchase or construction of an adaptive home to help accommodate our disabilities.
(Courtesy of Ryan Kules)
Eligible SAH grantees include those who have lost the use of both arms or both legs, or one leg and one arm; those who are blind in both eyes; and those who have certain severe respiratory injuries, or certain severe burns.
While this is a great benefit, the program currently has two shortfalls.
First, it didn't come close to covering all the costs of adapting my home.
After I retired from the Army, my wife and I found a house and used the SAH grant. At that time, the SAH benefit was just over $64,000, but the modifications we needed far exceeded that amount. We ended up spending a significant chunk of our savings to complete those modifications, which totaled more than $100,000.
Second, the SAH grant meets the needs of veterans like me at only one moment in time.
Now at age 38, my wife and I have seen our family grow. With three kids, we wanted to be in a larger house that better met our family's needs. Because I used the SAH grant to cover adaptations in our previous home, I was ineligible for SAH and we paid more than $90,000 out of pocket to modify our new home.
(Courtesy of Ryan Kules)
As younger veterans age, get married, and have families, our needs in an adaptive home usually change drastically.
This is also true for disabled veterans whose disabilities get worse over time.
One of the unfortunate realities I must face is, although I'm active and get around well now, I know that won't always be the case. There will come a time where I'll need to use a wheelchair more and potentially transition to a motorized wheelchair.
It is important that the SAH benefit evolves to meet the changing needs of disabled veterans and help them at various stages of their lives. I'm sure that our current home won't be our last, and when career or family concerns create a situation where we have to re-locate, my family and I should not have to bear the costs of modifying our future home because of the injuries I sustained in combat operations while deployed.
The first home Ryan Kules and his wife purchased and adapted.(Courtesy of Ryan Kules)
This is why the Specially Adapted Housing Improvement Act of 2019 is so important; it breaks down barriers and helps veterans access the SAH benefits they've earned on the battlefield.
On Thursday, H.R. 3504 The Specially Adapted Housing Act, sponsored by Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Florida, and co-sponsored by Rep. Mike Levin, D-California passed out of Committee and will move to the House floor.
Wounded Warrior Project strongly supports this bill as it will fully reinstate SAH benefits to eligible veterans every 10 years to accommodate moving and normal life changes. This bill will also:
- Increase the number of times the benefit can be accessed from three to six.
- Increase the number of people who can apply annually from 30 to 120.
- Increase the aggregate amount of the benefit for acquisition of a house with special features from $85,645 to $98,492.
- Increase the amount of assistance for adaptations to veterans' residences from $12,756 to $19,733.
As one of the nearly 2,000 veterans who have used the SAH program, expanding SAH eligibility qualifications will go a long way in helping many disabled veterans adapt their current or future homes to meet normal life changes.
My hope is that with this bill in place, veterans like me will have the peace of mind of knowing that wherever we choose to live – just like anybody else – we will have that opportunity without bearing large financial burdens. I ask that, on the behalf of all severely wounded veterans, you contact your elected officials and ask them to support H.R. 3504 and its companion bill, S. 2022.
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