Senate passes key bill to make home ownership easier for wounded veterans

Abbie Bennett
March 26, 2020 - 5:27 pm
Kules

Courtesy of Capt. Ryan Kules

When veterans leave service with disabilities, home is never quite the same.

Veterans like retired Army Capt. Ryan Kules, who is a double amputee, need to adapt their homes to fit their new realities or limit their house-hunting to homes that can accommodate their disabilities caused by often catastrophic wounds. 

Now, those veterans are a step closer to relief. 

The Senate on Thursday passed the Ryan Kules and Paul Benne Specially Adaptive Housing Act. The bill already passed the House last year, but because some adjustments were made it will head back to the House for a last look before moving to the president’s desk for final approval. 

The bill extends the Department of Veterans Affairs program that provides grants to severely disabled veterans to renovate their homes to account for their disabilities. 

Paul Benne, a veteran with ALS and one of the bill's namesakes, saw the bill introduced but died before it passed.

For veterans like Kules, the other bill namesake, that means doors and hallways must be widened, showers reworked, bedrooms moved to the ground floor, ramps added outside, carpet removed and more. Kules lost his right arm and left leg when his vehicle was hit by an IED during an Iraq deployment in 2005. He’s now Wounded Warrior Project’s director of combat stress recovery. 

“It’s a whole lot of things you may not necessarily think about,” Kules said of the renovations.

Kules and his wife, Nancy, were able to use the VA grant for their first home, but when they decided they wanted to move to a new home for their growing family, they had to start all over, without help from VA. 

The bill, now on the cusp of becoming law, expands the VA Specially Adaptive Housing grant program, increasing the overall amount by 15 percent -- up to $98,000 per grant -- and allowing eligible veterans to use it once every 10 years, or the average amount of time Americans live in a house before moving. 

“That’s really who we’re trying to help,” said WWP Legislative Director Derek Fronabarger. “It’s not some massive expansion of the benefit. It just a reauthorization every 10 years.” 

Once the bill becomes law, it’s effective immediately. Veterans who use the original grant will then have a 10-year waiting period before they are able to access another grant. 

Kules said the opportunity to use the grant more than once will change veterans’ lives. 

“I know a lot of veterans who are holding on to that benefit,” he said. “They’ve decided to hold off on utilizing the program because they knew the way it was set up, they could only use it once, so they were saving it for a retirement home, when they might need it most. With these changes, when they go into place, I hope it’s a comfort and peace of mind that it can be used to take care of current needs.

Kules said he hopes veterans who need the help will seek it. 

“We know our population struggles with asking for help sometimes,” he said. “Being comfortable with saying ‘I need some help or assistance with getting these modifications or adaptations to my home’ is a big deal. I hope people will take advantage of it now that this legislation makes it easier.” 

For veterans who want to find out if they’re eligible for the housing grants, Fronabarger said VA is the best resource for eligibility decisions, but vets who need extra help can always reach out to WWP, which has a benefits team, and also has its own program to help wounded veterans adapt their homes.

Kules and his family, along with others like them, won’t be repaid for the tens of thousands they spent out of pocket to make their homes livable. But that was never really the point.

“My experience with veterans is they want to take care of their own,” Kules said. “This may not be retroactive, but knowing veterans that come after me and others are not going to face the same challenges is very much a comfort. It’s the right thing to do.” 

Kules
Courtesy of Capt. Ryan Kules

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Reach Abbie Bennett: abbie@connectingvets.com or @AbbieRBennett.

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