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Federal Housing Grants Can Help Veterans Age in Place

VA money is available to install ramps, widen doorways, make other needed renovations

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For many people, staying at home is an important goal of aging.

That’s why the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers several grants to help service members and veterans pay for renovations that can make their homes more accessible if they’ve lost mobility. These programs are not only for young service members who have been injured in wars but also for veterans who served in the military decades ago.

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VA housing adaptation grants range from $2,000 to almost $110,000 depending on a veteran’s eligibility and needs. The grants can help cover home renovation costs to enable veterans to age in place.

“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.”

For someone with mobility limitations, home adaptation renovations can include adding a roll-in shower and grab bars to make the bathroom easier to access, installing ramps to replace steps, replacing carpets with smooth flooring for easier maneuvering, or widening doorways to accommodate a wheelchair or walker. Several grant programs can assist with expenses, especially helpful because Medicare typically won’t cover these types of adaptations or home safety equipment.

The four types of grants available in 2023:

Specially Adapted Housing (SAH) grant

Benefit: Up to $109,986.

Purpose: To purchase or build an adapted property or modify an existing, permanent home.

To qualify, a veteran must own or be on track to own the home and have a qualifying service-connected disability:

  • Blindness in both eyes.
  • Certain types of severe burns.
  • Loss or loss of use of extremities.

If a veteran applying for or receiving VA disability compensation is found to be eligible for this grant program, an SAH agent will contact the veteran.

Special Home Adaptation (SHA) grant

Benefit: Up to $22,036.

Purpose: To purchase an adapted property, or build or add adaptations to a permanent home.

To qualify, you or a family member must own or be on track to own the home and have a qualifying service-connected disability:

  • Certain respiratory or breathing injuries.
  • Certain types of severe burns.
  • Loss or loss of use of both hands.

Temporary Residence Adaptation (TRA) grant

Benefit: Up to $44,299 if you qualify for a Specially Adapted Housing grant or up to $7,910 if you qualify for a Special Home Adaptation grant.

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Purpose: To renovate a family member’s home if you’re living there temporarily so your needs can be accommodated.

The VA website identifies disability requirements for SAH and SHA grants, and its Handbook for Design pamphlet outlines design concepts, minimum property requirements and recommended adaptations for each of the grant programs above.  

Home Improvements and Structural Alterations (HISA) grant

Benefit: Up to $6,800 of lifetime benefits for veterans with service-connected disabilities or up to $2,000 in lifetime benefits for veterans with accessibility needs and unrelated service-connected disabilities.

Purpose: To cover medically necessary improvements to a primary residence, such as:

  • Allowing entry to the primary residence.
  • Lowering counters.
  • Upgrading electrical and plumbing systems to support home medical equipment.

This grant will not pay for:

  • Exterior decking.
  • Hot tubs.
  • New construction.
  • Walkways to exterior structures.

See the VA’s HISA grant page for more information or contact a prosthetic representative at the nearest VA medical center for application information. Some vets may also qualify for assistance through their state’s veterans program or local nonprofit groups. 

Disability rating not always needed

While eligibility for these grants typically requires having a VA disability rating, some veterans may qualify without this federal calculation of the ways your injuries could affect your potential earnings, especially if you have certain conditions.

“During the disability rating process, veterans diagnosed with service-connected ALS will immediately receive eligibility for the SAH grant,” Latona says. Also, veterans diagnosed during the disability rating process with diabetes, Parkinson’s and other illnesses potentially connected to Agent Orange exposure may receive eligibility if the VA determines the illness occurred because of your time on duty and the condition significantly affects 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,” he says.  

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 or call the VA toll free at 877-827-3702 for assistance. You also can get help from a veterans service organization. To get started, be sure to have your Social Security number and VA file or claim number if you have one.

If you’re approved, the VA will assign a grant agent to work with you through the entire process. The agent can also help you find contractors who specialize in these programs.

Curt Kiriu, president of CK Independent Living Builders in Mililani, Hawaii, specializes in renovations to make homes accessible for injured service members from the nearby Tripler Army Medical Center and for military retirees who want to stay in Hawaii. He analyzes grant applicants to determine changes to make their homes work for them.

“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.

Kiriu’s advice for applicants is to:

Research what exact accommodations a grant will cover and how much it will realistically pay for.

Identify any costs the veteran pays out of pocket to cover items if a project costs more than the grant.

Most grants are specific about what they’ll cover and the amount. For example, a home modification grant may cover building a ramp or installing a chairlift, but it may not cover a vertical platform lift or elevator.

List the needed modifications.

“Be prepared by having a written list of the modifications they need, not necessarily what they want or desire,” Kiriu says. “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.”

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, 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 cherry hardwood flooring is substantially more expensive.”

Certified aging-in-place specialists, called CAPS, are experienced in home adaptation renovations. You can find one near you through the National Association of Home Builders.

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