Congress aims to make home ownership easier for ‘catastrophically’ wounded veterans

Abbie Bennett
June 21, 2019 - 12:50 pm

Courtesy of Capt. Ryan Kules

When retired Army Capt. Ryan Kules and his wife began house hunting in 2009, they had to limit their search and reimagine each house they saw.

The doorways would have to be widened, the shower reworked, the master bedroom on the ground floor and more. Because in 2005, while Kules was assigned to 1st Battalion, 13th Armor Regiment deployed to Taji, Iraq, his vehicle was hit with an IED buried in the road. He lost his right arm and left leg in the blast.

That reality meant Kules and Nancy had to account for his combat injuries in the search for their first home together, considering renovations and retrofitting that would cost tens of thousands of dollars.

“Going through a house, thinking about all the things you’ll have to modify, it’s not just one thing … it’s the whole thing,” Kules said. “We’re lucky because we were able to make it work with what we had. This move was to set us up better for our family.”

The Department of Veterans Affairs has a program providing grants to severely disabled veterans for such renovations, and Kules and Nancy took advantage of the grant to partially cover renovations to their first home. But when they wanted to grow their family in 2015, they had to start the house hunt all over again, facing another $100,000 in renovations.  

That included months of work to widen doorways so he could use a wheelchair at home, bathroom reworks, retrofit kitchen cabinets, closets and other parts of the home to make it more accessible for Kules and his young family.

Courtesy of Capt. Ryan Kules

Because he already used the Specially Adaptive Housing (SAH) grant for his first home, there was nothing left for Kules to use on a new home. He and his family had to pay for the improvement themselves and they don’t want other veterans and their families to bear the same burden.

On Thursday, Kules was on Capitol Hill with the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP), where he is director of the Combat Stress Recovery Program, attending a House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing to advocate for an expansion of the SAH grant program.

Kules and WWP are lobbying in support of draft legislation from Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., that could increase the grant program by 15 percent, up to $98,000 and let eligible disabled veterans use the grant every 10 years -- the average amount of time Americans live in a house before moving.

“Young, critically injured veterans will age, many will marry and some will be fortunate enough to grow their families with children,” said Derek Fronabarger, government affairs director for WWP. “We want warriors to thrive in their work and in their personal lives. For those who seek new and better opportunities in life and career, relocating has to be an option. It is … unreasonable to expect a veteran to buy a home and never leave.

“This benefit is reserved for those catastrophically injured and who deserve our assistance throughout their entire life, not just one portion of it.”

Courtesy of Capt. Ryan Kules

And for the veterans whose mobility and quality of life are forever altered because of their military service, advocates say they should not have to bear the cost of making a house a livable home.

“Having those funds available we would be able to expand the search and know that I shouldn’t have any limits as far as where we’re wanting to live and where we’re able to be just because I have a disability,” Kules told Connecting Vets.

Already about 2,000 veterans use the SAH grants, according to WWP, which would likely expand if veterans could get a second round of grant money. Expanding the program could cost as much as $120 million over the next 10 years.

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