Joint Hearing of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs of the U.S. Senate and the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs of the U.S. House of Representatives at 1:00 p.m. CDT.
Witness Testimony of Hon. Ciro D. Rodriguez, a Representative in Congress from the State of Texas
Chairwoman Herseth Sandlin, members of the subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to speak regarding HR 5664, a bill that I introduced to correct a bureaucratic oversight in the way that the Veteran’s Administration advises contractors constructing or renovating housing for disabled veterans. I was extremely moved by last June’s hearing before this subcommittee concerning Specially Adaptive Housing.
There is little doubt that funding level available to individual disabled veterans to have their homes adjusted to meet their needs is too low. My bill does not address that particular issue, rather it seeks to ensure that veterans whose homes are updated under this program benefit from all that modern technology and construction practice can provide.
As Mr. Gonsalves, President and Founder of Homes for Our Troops, pointed out in the hearing, “servicemen and women with injuries that would have killed them in previous wars are now living to see another day, and are in need of truly “special” home adaptations.” The primary guidance that the VA provides contractors who draw up plans and specifications to modify homes under this grant program is VA Pamphlet 26-13, titled Handbook for Design: Specially Adaptive Housing. As Mr. Carl Blake, National Legislative Director of the Paralyzed Veterans of America pointed out: much, if not all, of the guidance found in the pamphlet is still applicable today. However, I feel that it focuses too much on veterans who find themselves in wheelchairs with lower extremity paralysis or amputation. While certainly still valid, we find increasing numbers of veterans returning home from current conflicts with alternative injuries such as upper-limb amputation or blindness. The guide was last updated in 1978. By comparison, the current Army Corps of Engineers housing design guide is dated 1994 and that of the Air Force, 2004.
The time has come to ensure that the guide contains up-to-date direction to architect and engineer firms and contractors who will do the noble work of ensuring our disabled veterans have homes that respect the dignity by which they sacrificed. I propose in my bill that the Secretary of Veterans affairs update the guide on at least a six-year basis. I also wish to express my intent that the field agents who approve the construction plans under this program view the pamphlet as a guide rather than a definitive set of requirements.
After consulting with several VSOs in preparing for this testimony, I need to clarify the wording of my bill. Rather than requiring the VA to update plans and specifications on a six-year basis, it is better stated that the pamphlet itself is updated on a six-year basis. Contractors actually derive the plans and specifications based on each veteran’s home and the pamphlet. I would hope that if the committee considers my bill in any future mark-up that such language is made clear. Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to speak today and for considering my bill, HR 5664.