Helping veterans with disabilities maintain their independence

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After years of hard work and sacrifice, coming home can be a particularly difficult time for veterans ending their military career. Among the many challenges veterans may face, a majority of those challenges are related to healthcare. By making some modifications to their vehicles and homes, veterans may find that it is easier to adequately care for themselves and manage their healthcare independently.

Among the health-related services returning veterans may need access to are prevention, diagnostics, treatment, rehabilitation, education, counseling and community services. Although everyone’s situation varies, veterans are susceptible to both minor and severe physical injuries while on active duty and even after. In fact, about one in five veterans suffer a traumatic brain injury. Veterans may also require care related to their mental health.

We have provided a brief overview of some potentially helpful improvements that can be made to a disabled veterans’ vehicle or home, along with information about the financial requirements to complete the modifications.

Table of contents

Car Modifications

Obtaining a driver’s license and owning a car creates a sense of true independence. Whether it is a quick stop by the convenience store or a road trip across the country, driving provides the freedom to go where you want to go and do what you want to do without assistance. Day-to-day activities often also require the ability to drive, including going to doctor’s appointments, picking up prescriptions and accessing other health services.

When a veteran loses the ability to drive, it can feel debilitating and may limit the scope of health services they can access, since they would have to rely on another driver and work around their schedule. Unfortunately, some physical service-related injuries can make operating a vehicle difficult and impractical. But it doesn’t always have to be. Thankfully, several modifications can be made to a veteran’s vehicle to potentially allow them to continue driving, including:

  • High or extra-wide doors
  • Adjustable foot pedals
  • Large interior door handles
  • Oversized knobs with visible labels
  • Support handles to assist with entry and exit
  • Large print for dashboard gauges
  • Seat adjusters that can move the seat in all directions (particularly raising it to help with the driver’s line of sight)
  • Dashboard-mounted ignition rather than steering column-mounted ignition
  • Light-based siren detector for a driver with difficulty hearing
  • Transfer seats to help get in and out of the driver’s seat
  • Handle controls (to replace traditional gas pedals/brakes)

In some cases, physical and mental injuries can prevent a person from driving for a significant amount of time, especially during a lengthy recovery period. After so much lost time behind the wheel, especially if a vehicle modification is required, a veteran may have a hard time learning to get back on the road again. However, there are dozens of resources available for anyone suffering from a disability who needs to learn how to adapt their driving to accommodate for their unique specifications. Veterans who want to learn more about getting back on the road may want to start with these sources:

Home Modifications

Like vehicle modifications, home modifications can make life much easier for veterans while allowing them to keep a sense of independence and freedom. However, perhaps the biggest benefit of home modifications is that they can help keep an injured veteran safe by creating an adaptive environment.

Home modifications can prevent falls and injuries, reduce health problems, delay disabilities and even allow veterans to practice routine self-care without assistance. In case of serious injury, some home modifications may also eliminate the need for an around-the-clock caregiver.

Although home modifications for injured or disabled veterans are essential, they are just home repairs, which means some modification projects can quickly become expensive. Later in this article, we discuss how some veterans could qualify for grants to help pay for these home changes. Also, the cost of a remodel compared to a full or part-time caregiver may be cheaper in the long run. The Fair Housing Act will also prohibit discrimination based on disabilities in all sorts of housing transactions, which should help veterans feel like they are eligible for housing no matter what injuries they suffered during their service.

Home modifications will not only vary based on a disabled veteran’s unique needs, but will also depend on the size, layout and location of the home. A few potential home modifications that could be helpful for injured veterans include:

  • Ramps and elevators to accommodate wheelchairs
  • Adding chair lifts to stairwells
  • Widening doorways
  • Lowering countertop height
  • Implementing accessible bathroom features
  • Changing to non-slip flooring materials
  • Adding doorknob and light switch grips
  • Placing transfer benches and push bars throughout the home
  • Modifying shelving units, plumbing fixtures, wall sockets, etc.

Financial information

Modifying your home or car for an injury or disability can be very expensive, but there are many resources, particularly for veterans, that could help make these necessary modifications attainable.

Cost of Car Modifications

Exactly how expensive are some of the car modifications we discussed? According to the National Highway Safety Association (NHTSA), a new vehicle that comes already modified for disabled drivers can cost anywhere between $20,000 and $80,000, depending on the year, make and model of the vehicle. Most of this cost is associated with ensuring the modifications are safe for both the driver and other motorists on the road. NHTSA regulates the manufacturing of AT devices for modified vehicles used explicitly by individuals with disabilities. If you only need minor modifications, you may want to check to see if any local resources near you could modify your existing vehicle. Still, it may be more expensive to do that than to buy a vehicle that already has the features you need in place.

After you’ve spent money on purchasing a modified vehicle or modifying your existing vehicle, you’ll want to make sure you have adequate car insurance to protect your investment. While the cost of carrying auto insurance varies by state, the national average for full coverage is $1,674 per year. Most insurance experts would recommend you consider full coverage, including comprehensive and collision coverage for your vehicle. Minimum coverage, which averages only $565 per year, would not cover damage to your car. As a veteran, you would be eligible to get a quote from USAA, consistently rated as among the best car insurance companies in the U.S.

Car Modification Grants

Serving in the military can sometimes come with additional financial hardships due to disabling mental and physical injuries, expensive medical costs and difficulty finding a new job. Many programs and resources are available to assist veterans with the costs associated with car modifications. Because regaining a sense of freedom is so important, every veteran who needs such changes to their vehicle should inquire about these resources before deciding they cannot afford to modify them. A few of these resources include:

  • Department of Veterans Affairs: The VA is an excellent resource because veterans can contact their local office for guidance and assistance specifically catered to active and former members of the military. Starting with adequate vehicle insurance, the VA can provide a list of the insurance companies that cater to veterans and what discounts you might qualify for when obtaining an insurance quote. Veterans can also ask about obtaining an application for adaptive equipment for their vehicle. The Department of Veterans Affairs’ automobile grant currently provides a maximum of $21,488.29, which could put a significant dent into vehicle modification costs.
  • Plan to Achieve Self Support (PASS): This Social Security Administration program helps people with disabilities and could be a useful tool for veterans. PASS is a helpful tool to teach veterans to save the money they need to buy the equipment required to return to work.
  • Medical Tax Deduction: Although more of an indirect cost-saving technique than a grant, added assistive devices or technology could qualify for a tax deduction the next time you file taxes. As with all deductions, veterans should be prepared to provide proof of receipts and may even need a doctor’s note verifying the need for the equipment.
  • Manufacturer Rebate Programs: Several auto manufacturers offer a rebate toward the cost of modifications for drivers with disabilities. Buick, Chevrolet, Dodge, Ford, Honda and several others offer reimbursements for up to $1,000 to help alleviate some of the associated costs of vehicle modification. The wide variety of participating car manufacturers helps keep veterans from being limited to a specific car brand.

Cost of Home Modifications

While vehicle modifications designed to assist individuals with disabilities are typically expensive due to legal safety requirements, home modifications can vary significantly in price depending on what you need. Keep in mind that these enhancements are similar to the cost of making other home remodels. On average, a veteran may pay between $813 and $8,092 to modify their home to accommodate a disability, according to Homeadvisor. Simple modifications can cost as little as $130, while changes that require altering the home’s structure could reach around $19,000.

One of the more frequent home modifications for injured or disabled veterans is installing a disability ramp on the exterior of their home, which can cost $2,042, on average. To help with mobility indoors, adding an elevator can run $4,092, on average. Since the costs vary greatly, it is best to speak with an ADA contractor or learn more about specific disability accommodation cost estimates.

An associated cost of home modification comes with ensuring you get proper home insurance to cover the cost of replacing or rebuilding your newly modified home. Although the cost of home insurance varies by state and will depend on many other factors, the national average cost of home insurance is $1,312 annually for $250,000 in dwelling coverage.

Disability Housing Grants

Understandably, not all veterans will be able to shell out thousands of dollars for home repairs. Like with vehicle modifications, however, there are also grants to assist in alleviating costs associated with enhancing your home to accommodate your needs. A few of the grants available to injured veterans include the following:

  • SAH grant: The Specially Adapted Housing (SAH) grant was designed to assist disabled veterans in achieving a barrier-free living environment. Both service members and veterans may be eligible for the grant if their injuries or disabilities are service-related. The grant specifically provides funding for constructing or modifying a house to meet the individual’s specific adaptive needs. In 2020, the maximum grant amount available was $90,364, of which even a partial amount could help a disabled veteran achieve more freedom within their own home without a substantial financial burden. SAH grants may be utilized in the following situations, and veterans may qualify for up to three:
    • Construction of a new adaptive home on land yet to be acquired.
    • Construction of a new home on owned land that is specifically designed to meet a veteran’s individual adaptive needs.
    • Remodeling an existing home to meet a veteran’s individual adaptive needs.
    • Application of the grant money to an existing unpaid principal balance of a mortgage of an adaptive home that was already obtained without any assistance of a grant.
  • HISA grant: The Home Improvement and Structural Alterations (HISA) grants are available to help veterans with home modifications and/or structural enhancements that would meet an individual’s specific adaptive needs. Veterans are eligible for this grant if they have a service-related condition rated 50% or more service-connected. Although not as large as the SAH grant, the lifetime benefit provided to injured service members via the HISA grant is up to $6,800, which could still greatly assist a veteran with paying for home modifications. Even veterans without a service-related condition may qualify for up to a $2,000 benefit, depending on their circumstances, to assist with the cost of home repairs designed for barrier-free living.

Other Resources

Conclusion

After everything veterans have done for our country, they should not have to feel alone or lose their freedom when returning home, even after a disabling injury. Veterans should especially not have to lose the privilege of driving their own vehicle or getting around in their own homes. Adaptive vehicle modifications and home modifications can help veterans regain their freedom and mobility, thus, significantly improving their quality of life. Since these modifications can seem overwhelming and expensive, there are thankfully many organizations, such as the Department of Veterans Affairs, that are both willing and designed to provide more information, additional resources, and in some cases, financial assistance for modifications.

Written by
Jessie See
Insurance Contributor
Jessie See has a year of experience writing for Bankrate.com, Reviews.com and other insurance domains. She has covered topics ranging from auto and homeowner’s insurance to life insurance. She has been writing professionally for over a decade with experience in a variety of different topics and industries. Prior to becoming an insurance writer, she worked as a legal assistant in the field of personal injury law and as a licensed sales producer at various insurance agencies.
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