By KEVIN DERBY
One of the leading Republicans on the U.S. House Veterans Affairs Committee has introduced a proposal expanding U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) housing grants to the most severely disabled veterans.
At the end of last month, U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., who had been the vice chairman of the committee when the GOP controlled the U.S. House, brought out the “Ryan Kules Specially Adaptive Housing Improvement Act” which he showcased on Tuesday.
The bill expands the VA’s Specially Adapted Housing (SAH) Grant Program which helps wounded veterans. Noting that he gathered input from several severely wounded veterans including U.S. Army Captain Ryan Kules, Bilirakis noted that the SAH grants have not been expanded in many years.
Gus BilirakisThe bill gives priority for SAH grants to veterans dealing with terminal illnesses and other medical conditions. The legislation would also let veterans apply six times for SAH grants as opposed to just three and increases the cap of Post 9/11 Veterans who have lost a limb in the service of the country from 30 a year to 120. The bill also increases the SAH grant payments cap by 15 percent and increased the number of VA officials working on them.
On Tuesday, Kules stressed the need to reform the grants.
“Wounded warriors face unique challenges in recovering from their injuries,” said Kules who was wounded in Iraq and is now director of the Wounded Warrior Project’s Combat Stress Recovery Program. “The SAH benefit has helped me tremendously, and renewing this benefit every 10 years will help ensure wounded veterans’ homes can be adapted as our needs change throughout our lives.”
Bilirakis noted that Kules testified before the U.S. House VA Economic Opportunity Subcommittee last year which helped lead him to introduce the bill.
“When I heard of the challenges Ryan faced when he wanted to buy a new home to accommodate his growing family, because he could not use the SAH benefit a second time due to program limitations, I knew something needed to be done,” said Bilirakis. “Many of these young and severely wounded warriors are returning home in their early twenties. As they mature and their circumstances change through marriage, the birth of additional children, etc. they need a benefit that changes with them so that they can fully enjoy their lives. Our bill helps to make that happen.”
Bilirakis has reeled in two prominent sponsors for his proposal: U.S. Rep. Mike Levin, D-Calif., the chairman of the Economic Opportunity Subcommittee and U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., who leads the GOP on the House Veterans Affairs Committee.
“Owning a home is stressful enough without having to worry about whether you will be able to afford the adaptations you need to live comfortably due to the injuries you suffered while serving your country. VA’s Specially Adaptive Housing (SAH) program helps the most seriously injured veterans avoid that worry. The Ryan Kules Specially Adaptive Housing Improvement Act of 2019 will improve the SAH program so that it helps even more disabled veterans throughout their lifetimes. I am grateful to Rep. Bilirakis, the Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity; the Wounded Warrior Project; and the Paralyzed Veterans of America for their work on this legislation. Veterans with even the most severe injuries have limitless potential and I am glad that this bill will ensure that they are able to live independently as they reach for that potential,” said Roe.
The Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) and the Wounded Warrior Project are backing the proposal.