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Submission For The Record of Shannon L. Middleton, American Legion, Deputy Director, Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation Commission

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee:

Thank you for this opportunity to submit The American Legion’s views on the Department of Veterans Affairs Specially Adaptive Housing program.

The American Legion believes the need for specially adaptive housing is paramount as increasing numbers of severely disabled veterans are returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. 

The signature injuries of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) are blast trauma injuries resulting from improvised explosive devices (IED) to include—but are not limited to—amputations, loss of sight in one or both eyes and nerve damage.  Decades ago, many of these veterans would never have survived their injuries.  But, due to advances in protective gear, many combat veterans return to their lives with permanent, life-altering disabilities.  The Specially Adaptive Housing and the Special Home Adaptation programs assist these veterans with adapting their housing to accommodate their special needs and helps to promote independent living.

The Specially Adapted Housing Grant 

This grant is available for disabled veterans who are entitled a wheelchair accessible home especially adapted for their needs.  These veterans are service connected for total and permanent disabilities that include: loss or loss of use of both lower extremities; blindness in both eyes and loss or loss of use of one lower extremity; loss or loss of use of one extremity and residuals of organic disease or injury; and loss or loss of use of both upper extremities at or above the elbow. Many of the injured service members may temporarily reside for extended periods of time with family members providing assistance during rehabilitation after combat-related injuries that result in permanent and total service-connected disabilities.

Currently, the program authorized a maximum amount is $50,000 for this grant—which can be used up to three times.  A temporary grant of $14,000 for veterans residing temporarily in a home owned by a family member is also available.  The cost of construction material and labor will increase and the grants should be adjusted regularly to reflect the increase. The American Legion strongly recommends that the current maximum for this program be increased to reflect the increase in the residential cost of construction index.

The American Legion strongly recommends that the current $50,000 grant for specially adapted housing be increased to $55,000

Special Home Adaptations Grant

This grant is available to veterans who are entitled to adaptation due to blindness in both eyes with 5/200 visual acuity or less, or includes the anatomical loss of both hands for the actual cost to adapt a house, or the appraised market value of. adapting features already in the house when it was purchased.  The current maximum grant amount is $10,000. 

The maximum amount for the temporary grant for veterans temporarily residing with family is $2,000.  Depending on the length of the veteran’s stay with the family member, the family member’s home may require extensive adaptations in order to gain independence over the course of recovery.   The American Legion believes that the maximum amounts for this program should also be increased to accommodate the increase in the cost of home improvement. 

Some of these veterans and their families have already experienced financial hardships due to loss of the veteran’s income or loss of employment while providing care to the injured veteran.  The amount of the grants, which are designed to meet the needs of veterans who are facing challenges due to their service-connected disabilities, should do as much as possible to defray the cost of these necessary adaptations.

The American Legion strongly recommends that the Special Home Adaptations Grant be increased from $10,000 to $12,300.

Again, thank you Mr. Chairman for giving The American Legion this opportunity to present its views on the Specially Adaptive Housing program. We look forward to working with the Subcommittee to address this important issue.