En español | The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers several grants to help servicemembers and veterans pay for renovations that can make their homes more accessible if they've lost mobility. We often think of these programs as primarily for young servicemembers who have been injured at war. But veterans who served in the military decades ago can qualify for grants to help cover the cost of home renovations that can enable them to age in place. The grants can be worth from $2,000 up to more than $90,000, depending on the veteran's eligibility and needs.
"The majority of veterans seeking housing adaptations today are Vietnam era, due in part to their age and progressive illnesses like Parkinson's, cancer and diabetes,” says Jason Latona, chief of specially adapted housing for the VA's Veterans Benefits Administration. “These veterans, like Americans from that era in general, are looking to adapt their homes so they can continue to age in place. VA housing adaptation grants provide an opportunity for some of these veterans to ensure their homes are more safe and accessible."
These veterans may require a variety of home renovations: widening doorways to accommodate a wheelchair or walker; installing ramps to replace steps; adding a roll-in shower and grab bars to make the bathroom easier to access; or replacing carpets with flooring materials that make it easier to maneuver in a wheelchair. There are several grant programs to help with these kinds of expenses.
Specially Adapted Housing (SAH) grant. An SAH grant, the largest available, can be worth up to $90,364. It can be used to help buy, build or renovate your permanent home. To qualify, you must own (or be on track to own) the home, and you must have a qualifying service-connected disability, such as the loss or loss of use of extremities, blindness or certain severe burns.
Special Home Adaptation (SHA) grant. SHA grants, which are worth up to $18,074, can be used to help buy, build or renovate a permanent home. To qualify, you or a family member must own (or be on track to own) the home, and you must have a qualifying service-connected disability, such as blindness in both eyes, the loss or loss of use of both hands, certain severe burns, or some kinds of respiratory or breathing injuries.
Temporary Residence Adaptation (TRA) grant. If you qualify for an SAH or SHA grant and are temporarily living in a family member's home that needs renovation to accommodate your needs, you can apply for a TRA grant. This grant can be worth up to $7,083 if you qualify for an SHA grant or up to $39,669 if you qualify for an SAH grant.
The VA website has detailed information about disability requirements for SAH and SHA grants. The VA's Handbook for Design includes much more information about the types of home improvements that qualify.
While eligibility for these grants typically requires having a VA disability rating, some veterans who don't already have a disability rating may qualify, especially if they have certain conditions. “During the disability rating process, veterans diagnosed with service-connected ALS will immediately receive eligibility for the SAH grant,” says Latona. Also, veterans diagnosed during the disability rating process with Parkinson's, diabetes and other illnesses potentially connected to Agent Orange exposure may receive eligibility if the VA determines the illness is service-connected and significantly affects their mobility. “It's critical that veterans establish and maintain their disability rating with the VA to ensure they are informed of their eligibility for benefits,” Latona says.
Home Improvements and Structural Alterations (HISA) grant. Some veterans with accessibility needs and unrelated service-connected disabilities may qualify for a smaller HISA grant, which is worth up to $2,000. This grant can cover medically necessary improvements to a primary residence, including lowering counters or upgrading electrical/plumbing systems to support home medical equipment. The money can't be used to pay for walkways to exterior structures, exterior decking, new construction or hot tubs. For veterans with service-connected disabilities, HISA grants can be worth up to $6,800. See the VA's HISA grant page for more information. Some vets may also qualify for assistance through their state's veterans program or local nonprofit groups.
How to apply for VA housing grants
The easiest way to apply for a VA housing adaptation grant is through the VA eBenefits portal. You can also apply by mail or through a VA regional office. Learn more about the application process here, or call the VA toll-free at 877-827-3702 for assistance. You can also get help from a veterans service organization. Be sure to have your social security number as well as your VA file or claim number (if you have one) to get started.
If approved, you are assigned to a VA grant agent who can work with you through the entire process and even help you find local contractors who specialize in these programs, although you can use any contractor you choose.
Curt Kiriu, president of CK Independent Living Builders in Mililani, Hawaii, specializes in renovations to make homes accessible to injured servicemembers from the nearby Tripler Army Medical Center and military retirees who want to stay in Hawaii. He also does assessments to help grant applicants determine what changes are needed to make their homes accessible. “I assess the area based on getting in and out, getting to the bathroom, and functioning within their home — looking at the possibilities and the costs,” he says.
His advice for people who are applying for these and other grants that can help make their homes more accessible: “Do your research on exactly what the grant will cover and how much does it cover,” he says. “Are there share costs, where the veteran pays out of pocket to cover things in the event the project costs more than the grant? Most grants are specific on what they will cover and the amount. For example, a home modification grant, depending on the amount, may cover building a ramp or installation of a chairlift, but it may not cover a vertical platform lift or elevator."
Making a list of the needed modifications can help. “Be prepared by having a written list of the modifications they need, and not necessarily what they want or desire. The process can go quicker when the applicant has a list they and the grantor can review, which may also help the contractor when submitting an estimate,” says Kiriu.
Also, know the limitations and purpose of the grant. “Grants have specific reasons,” he says. “Government grants, as well as private sector grants, may only cover the basic needs of the applicant and not something more extravagant. For example, they may remove the existing carpet for easier mobility with a wheelchair or walker and install tile, LVT vinyl plank or even sheet vinyl flooring, but they may not be accepting to installing cherry hardwood flooring. Each type of flooring serves the purpose for easier mobility, but the cherry hardwood flooring is substantially more expensive.”
You can search for members of the National Association of Home Builders with certified aging-in-place specialists (CAPS) experienced in these types of renovations here.