Veterans with confirmed service-connected amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) now automatically qualify for grants to help pay for the costs of building, buying or adapting a home, according to a policy change the Department of Veterans Affairs announced March 19, 2014.
The policy change means that veterans with ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, are now presumed medically eligible for specially adapted housing grants up to a maximum of $67,555 to help pay for costs associated with constructing or modifying a home to meet their needs, or to purchase adapted homes or pay mortgages on homes that are already adapted.
The process for applying for specially adapted housing grants can be long and cumbersome, largely because the VA has to review plans, request bids from contractors and evaluate the potential for the home to be adapted.
The long process has been especially challenging for veterans with ALS, who previously did not qualify for the benefits until their condition worsened. Since ALS patients on average live only three to five years after receiving their diagnosis, this often prompted Paralyzed Veterans of America to work with the VA early on to ensure benefits were ready when the ALS veteran lost his or her ability to walk.
“ALS patients tend to deteriorate very rapidly; it’s not a gradual onset for the most part,” said James Fischl, associate director of field services operations at Paralyzed Veterans of America. “The paperwork involved for specially adapted housing can be very cumbersome. Now they can start that paperwork early and get an idea of what they’re going to need before their condition deteriorates to the point where they can’t get along without it.”
The VA estimates the policy change will save approximately 12 months in the overall process of applying for a specially adapted housing grant.
Fischl said the process for receiving SAH grants would remain lengthy, depending on which area of the country a veteran lives, the degree of modifications and the contractors available. Still, being able to initiate the process before a veteran’s ALS condition worsens is a key step, he added.
The VA in 2008 established a presumption of service connection for veterans diagnosed with ALS at any time after separation from service. The change made ALS veterans immediately eligible for monthly VA disability compensation benefits. In 2012, the VA amended its disability rating scale to assign a 100-percent disability rating for any veteran who has service-connected ALS.
Veterans with an ALS diagnosis can contact Paralyzed Veterans of America to initiate and take care of all of the paperwork for the SAH grant, Fischl said.
“We are very grateful this has finally occurred,” Fischl said. “It’s a blessing for the veterans who need the help.”
Learn more about Paralyzed Veterans of America's outreach to veterans with ALS
Brittany Ballenstedt is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in several publications, including Government Executive, National Journal, Technology Daily and NextGov.com.