Madam Chairwoman and members of the Subcommittee, I appreciate the opportunity to appear before you today to discuss VA’s Specially Adaptive Housing (SAH) programs. In my testimony I would like to highlight VA’s commitment to meeting the housing needs of our nation’s most seriously disabled veterans.
The Specially Adapted Housing Grant Program
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) home loan program serves a clientele that is diverse in many ways. The only common denominator of this clientele is service in the Armed Forces of the nation. Specially Adapted Housing (SAH) grants for severely disabled veterans are among the most important of the benefits that the Loan Guaranty Program provides. Veterans who have specific service-connected disabilities may be entitled to a grant from VA for the purpose of constructing an adapted home or modifying an existing home to meet the veteran’s needs. The goal of the SAH Grant Program is to provide a barrier-free living environment which affords the veteran a level of independent living that he or she may not have otherwise enjoyed. Since the inception of this program in 1948, VA has provided approximately 34,000 grants totaling $650 million. Since FY 1996, VA has provided this grant assistance to almost 6,000 severely disabled veterans.
Types of Grants
There are three types of grants administered by VA, which are available to assist severely disabled veterans in adapting housing to meet their special needs.
- The Specially Adapted Housing (SAH) grant is generally used to create a wheelchair accessible home. This grant currently is currently limited to $50,000.
- The Special Home Adaptations (SHA) grant is generally used to assist veterans with mobility throughout their homes. This grant is currently limited to $10,000.
- A Temporary Residence Grant (TRA) is now available to eligible veterans temporarily residing in a home owned by a family member. Under this program veterans eligible for an SAH grant would be permitted to use up to $14,000 and those veterans eligible for an SHA grant would be permitted to use up to $2,000 of the maximum grant amounts.
As a result of P.L. 109-233, eligible veterans or servicemembers may receive up to three SAH grants. Prior to enactment of this law, veterans could receive only one SAH grant from VA. Over the past ten years, VA received approximately 1000 grant applications per year. As a result of the enactment of the law permitting multiple-use, in addition to our normal volume, VA field offices have received 4200 requests for subsequent use grants as of May 18, 2007. This is clearly a substantial increase in volume. VA is prepared to devote the necessary staffing resources to ensure that these veterans receive timely grant processing.
Eligibility for SAH grants
The SAH grant is available to veterans who have a service-connected disability due to military service, entitling them to compensation for permanent and total disability due to:
- The loss, or loss of use of both lower extremities, such as to preclude locomotion without the aid of braces, crutches, canes, or a wheelchair, or
- Blindness in both eyes, having only light perception, plus loss or loss of use of one lower extremity, or
- The loss, or loss of use of one lower extremity together with (1) residuals of organic disease or injury, or (2) the loss or loss of use of one upper extremity, which so affects the functions of balance or propulsion as to preclude locomotion without the aid of braces, crutches, canes, or a wheelchair or,
- The loss, or loss of use of both upper extremities such as to preclude use of the arms at or above the elbow.
The SHA grant is available to veterans who have a service-connected disability due to military service, entitling them to compensation for permanent and total disability due to:
- Blindness in both eyes with 5/200 visual acuity or less or,
- The anatomical loss or loss of use of both hands, or extremities below the elbow.
Sufficiency of Grant Levels
The last grant increase provided by Congress was in 2003, at which time the Specially Adapted Housing grant was increased from $48,000 to $50,000. Since 2003, approximately 98 percent of grant recipients used the entire grant amount available. Of those who did not use the entire amount, the average use was over $49,000.
Customer Satisfaction Survey Results
In 2003 VA conducted a survey of SAH grant recipients. The purpose of this survey was to help us determine whether and how well we were meeting the needs of our veterans. Ninety-two (92) percent of grant recipients indicated that they were satisfied or very satisfied with the overall SAH grant program. We are currently conducting another customer satisfaction survey to determine how we have improved in our SAH grant delivery methods and timeliness. We hope to have the results from the survey by the end of this fiscal year. We intend to use the feedback to further improve the grant process.
Additionally, when appropriate, VA coordinates SAH benefits with the Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment programs for Independent Living (IL) Services. These programs’ employees closely coordinate their activities when veterans are eligible for both SAH and IL benefits. This ensures that veterans will receive the optimal services available from each program, and eliminates the duplication of benefits.
The SAH and SHA grants can also be used in conjunction with other VA benefit programs, including:
- The Veterans Mortgage Life Insurance program through the VA Insurance Center
- The VA Guaranteed Home Loan, and Native American Direct Loan programs through VA Loan Guaranty Service, and
- The Home Improvement and Structural Alterations program through the Prosthetics & Sensory Aids Service (Veterans Health Administration)
Madam Chairwoman, this concludes my testimony. I greatly appreciate the opportunity to be here today and I look forward to answering your questions.