On March 26, 2020, the Senate passed the Ryan Kules and Paul Benne Specially Adaptive Housing Improvement Act of 2019. This was a different version of the bill which the House passed on July 23, 2019. With the Senate changes the bill is now at the House where it is waiting a final vote. The bill changes the current program by allowing blind veterans to use the program, increases funding from about $85,000 to about $98,000, and it extends access to the funding from three times to six times.
According to the news release from Senator Jerry Moran’s (R-Kan.) office who sponsored a Senate version of the bill with Senator Kyrsten Sineme (D-Ariz.), the bill was introduced to expand Specially Adapted Housing (SAH) eligibility for seriously injured or ill veterans. It was named after Army Colonel (Ret.) Paul Benne, MD, MPH. The companion legislation was introduced by U.S. Representatives Gus Bilirakis (FL-12), David Roe (TN-01) and Mike Levin (CA-49),to the House and named the Ryan Kules Specially Adaptive Housing Improvement Act of 2019.
“This legislation will serve veterans who may need similar assistance to that received by Colonel Benne by expanding SAH eligibility qualifications for seriously ill or injured veterans,” said Sen. Moran. “This modernized and expanded grant program will allow veterans to utilize vital SAH grants in a way that best fit their needs – providing greater support and improving the quality of life for many of our nation’s veterans. Thank you to Colonel Benne and his wife, Christine, for their decades of selfless service to our nation and for their advocacy, resiliency and willingness to share their story, which will undoubtedly help many veterans in the future.”
“Many veterans carry wounds from their service that make everyday life more challenging,” said Sen. Sinema.“That is why our bill is so important; it breaks down barriers and helps veterans access the specially adaptive housing benefits they’ve earned.”
Col. (Ret.) Benne received a rating of 100 percent disabled when he retired from the U.S. Army after 23 years due to a medical condition. He applied for a SAH grant to help pay for the costs of making his home wheelchair adaptable. After trying for more than a year to receive a grant through this program he reached out to Sen. Moran’s office for assistance. After three months Sen. Moran’s office was able to help Benne achieve a favorable decision on his claim. The legislation was developed to help other veterans facing the same issues Benne had while navigating the process. At the time Benne said, “Sen. Moran is good about putting veterans first. “This SAH grant has given me the ability to stay at home and my family the ability to better care for me. As my disease continues to change, the ability to change my surroundings will be met with this legislation.”
Currently Blind Veterans do not have access to an SAH grant. This bill will allow them to participate in the grant program. Some technology used to adapt a blind person’s home includes safer cooktops, voice-activated thermostats and for those with poor vision special lighting and window treatments.
The bill will also provide access to SAH grants more times for disabled Veterans. This is needed so that when a Veteran moves to a bigger home to accommodate a growing family or moving due to a new job they will have a grant to help with the cost of adapting the new home such as widening hallways and doorways, adding wheelchair ramps or lowing countertops to accommodate a wheelchair. Also, some modifications need upkeep over time such as replacing a wheelchair ramp.
The urgency of getting bills like this passed for our veterans really hit home when Col. (Ret.) Paul Benne for whom this bill was named died in December 2019 at the age of 54.
Marguerite Cleveland is a freelance writer who specializes in human interest and travel stories. She is a military brat, a veteran and now a military spouse. Her military experience is vast as the daughter of a Navy man who served as an enlisted sailor and then Naval Officer. She served as an enlisted soldier in the reserves and on active duty, then as an Army Officer. She currently serves as a military spouse. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two sons. Visit her website www.PeggyWhereShouldIGo.com