By Leonard J. Selfon, J.D., CAE, and Mark Maghran
Until recently, eligible veterans and members of the armed forces could receive a one time only Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) special adaptive home modification grant of $10,000 or $50,000, depending on their level of disability.
On June 15, 2006, however, the ‘‘Veterans’ Housing Opportunity and Benefits Improvement Act of 2006’’ (Public Law 109-233) went into effect. Among other things, the new law expands the VA’s home modification grant program so that veterans may now use the benefit up to three times, provided that the total they receive does not exceed the maximum benefit.
The VA has four types of home modification programs.
Specially Adapted Housing
The Specially Adapted Housing (SAH) grant program is available for constructing an adaptive home or modifying an existing one. The maximum allowable SAH grant amount is currently $50,000. Eligibility for an SAH grant requires that the veteran have a service-connected disability that the VA has rated as permanent and total. These include the loss or loss of use of both legs that precludes locomotion without an assistive device (braces, crutches, canes or a wheelchair); blindness in both eyes with only light perception, plus the loss, or loss of use, of one leg; the loss, or loss of use, of one leg together with either the residuals of an organic disease or injury or the loss or loss of use of one arm which adversely affects the individual’s balance or propulsion so as to require the use of an assistive device; or the loss or loss of use of both arms so as to preclude use of the arms at or above the elbow.
Veterans who participate in the VA’s Home Loan Guaranty and Native American Direct Loan programs may also receive an SAH grant to purchase an adaptive home.
Special Home Adaptation
The second type of VA home modification program is the Special Home Adaptation (SHA) grant. The SHA grant is available to assist veterans in modifying an existing home to meet their adaptive needs. The maximum allowable SHA grant is $10,000. Similar to the SAH grant eligibility requirements, the SHA grant requires that veterans have a service-connected disability that entitles them to compensation for permanent and total disability due to blindness in both eyes with visual acuity of 5/200 or less, or the anatomical loss or loss of use of both hands or arms below the elbow.
Home Improvements and Structural Alterations
The third type of VA home modification program is the Home Improvements and Structural Alterations (HISA) grant. HISA grants are available to veterans with service-connected disabilities, or veterans with disabilities not related to their military service. These grants provide assistance for any home improvement necessary for the continuation of treatment, or for purposes of allowing access to the home or modifying a bathroom. Eligibility requires a medical determination that improvements and structural alterations are necessary or appropriate for effective and economical treatment of the veteran’s disability. A veteran may receive a HISA grant concurrently with either a SHA or SAH grant. The maximum HISA grant amounts are $4,100 for service-connected veterans and $1,200 for nonservice-connected veterans.
Temporary Residence Adaptation
Public Law 109-233 created a fourth type of VA home modification program as the result of the large number of wounded returnees from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who do not own their own homes and have moved in with family during their convalescence. Unlike SAH and SHA grants, the Temporary Residence Adaptation (TRA) grant does not require the veteran to own a home. Rather, a TRA grant is available to eligible veterans and seriously injured active duty service members who are temporarily living, or who intend to temporarily live, in a home owned by a family member. Under the TRA grant program, veterans and service members eligible under the SAH program would be permitted to use up to $14,000 to modify a family member’s home. Those eligible under the SHA program would be allowed to use up to $2,000 to do so. Each grant would count as one of the three grants allowed under the new program rules. The TRA grant program will expire on June 15, 2011, unless Congress extends it before then.
The VA imposes strict procedures during the grant process. Applicants for VA home modification grants must file a completed VA Form 26-4555, Veterans Application in Acquiring Specially Adapted Housing or Special Home Adaptation Grant, with their local VA regional office for SAH and SHA grants, or VA Form 10-0103, Veterans Application for Assistance in Acquiring Home Improvement and Structural Alterations, with their local VA medical center. Both forms must be filed prior to the start of construction. Once a grant has been approved, the VA will work closely throughout the entire process with contractors and architects to design, construct and modify homes that meet the individuals’ housing accessibility needs. The VA may also inspect an existing home or construction plans for a new home before approving a home modification grant.
The VA has extended the new three-grant rule to veterans who have received grants in the past that combine to less than the maximum allowable grant amount. Accordingly, veterans eligible for SAH, SHA or HISA grants that have used only a portion of their grant, or who did not seek the grant after initially qualifying for it, may apply to the VA for a new grant up to the respective allowable grant maximum amounts. The law, however, exempts a subsequent grant to pay for adaptations made prior to June 15, 2006.
For more information on these VA grant programs or to obtain grant application forms, you can contact the VA at 1-800-827-1000, or visit the VA’s website at www.va.gov.
VetsFirst veterans service representatives are available to assist veterans with their VA claims. Click here to Ask VetsFirst.
Leonard J. Selfon, JD, CAE, is vice president of VetsFirst.
Mark Maghran is VetsFirst regional service director for the Buffalo office.
Need help or information regarding your veterans benefits? Just Ask VetsFirst September 10th, 2008
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