Helping veterans with disabilities maintain their independence
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After years of hard work and sacrifice, returning veterans often encounter a new set of challenges — especially when it comes to their health care. Everyone’s situation is different, but veterans are susceptible to both minor and severe physical injuries while on active duty. In fact, about one in five veterans suffers a traumatic brain injury. Depending on their injuries, returning veterans may need access to prevention, diagnostics, treatment, rehabilitation, education and mental health services once they return home.
Disabled American veterans may be able to better manage their health care independently through making certain modifications to their vehicles and homes. These resources for veterans can help you decide which improvements can make the biggest difference, and clarify the financial commitments that come along with those modifications, from the average cost to make these changes to the car and home insurance implications that come along with them.
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:
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
- Installing 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.
Modifying your home or car for an injury or disability can be very expensive, but there are many resources, particularly for disabled 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 with disability modifications can cost 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 purchase a modified vehicle, it’s important to have adequate car insurance to protect your finances. While the cost of carrying auto insurance varies by state and your personal factors, the national average for full coverage is $1,771 per year. Keep in mind that some modifications made to your vehicle may increase your cost of car insurance because the added parts may be more expensive to replace.
Although budget is probably a major consideration, you may want to consider full coverage insurance, which includes comprehensive and collision coverage. Minimum coverage, which averages only $545 per year, only covers damages to others or their property if you cause an accident, but would not cover damage to your own vehicle. As a veteran, you would be eligible to get a car insurance quote from USAA, consistently named one of the cheapest car insurance companies on the market and one of the best car insurance companies in the U.S.
Car modification grants
You may think a modified vehicle isn’t within your budget, but several resources are available to assist veterans with the costs, including:
- Department of Veterans Affairs: 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): The Social Security Administration’s PASS program teaches 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: Buick, Chevrolet, Dodge, Ford, Honda and several others offer reimbursements for up to $1,000 toward the cost of modifications for drivers with disabilities to help alleviate the burden. The wide variety of participating car manufacturers helps keep veterans from being limited to a specific car brand.
Cost of home modifications
Home modifications can vary significantly in price depending on what you need. 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 most typical home modifications for injured or disabled veterans is installing a disability ramp on the exterior of their home, which costs $2,042, on average. Adding an elevator runs $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.
You may want to ensure your modified home has proper homeowners insurance to protect your finances in the event of a covered loss. Your cost of home insurance will vary, but the national average cost of home insurance is $1,383 annually for $250,000 in dwelling coverage.
Disability housing grants
Like with vehicle modifications, certain grants can help alleviate costs associated with enhancing your home to accommodate your needs. The following grants are available to injured veterans:
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 for veterans
- Highly Rural Transportation Grants
- Veterans Transportation Program
- Disabled American Veterans Transportation Network
- Alamo Rental Car Discounts
- Amtrak Discount
- Avis Discount
- Greyhound Discount
- Peter Pan bus Discount
- Uber (offered seasonally)
The bottom line
Veterans with disabilities deal with a unique set of challenges when they return home. Adjusting to a disability and the financial strain that may come with it isn’t easy. But home and vehicle modifications can help veterans stay as independent as possible and get the most out of daily life. While these modifications can be expensive, resources exist to help veterans with the financing. Pursuing car and home modification grants from government agencies and nonprofits can help veterans get the best equipment possible to address their healthcare needs.