The House passed legislation Tuesday that would increase the amount of money available to severely injured veterans to renovate their homes to accommodate their disabilities.
The measure also would broaden scholarship eligibility for survivors of some troops who die from a service-connected condition and widen a grant program for blind veterans.
The Ryan Kules Specially Adaptive Housing Act of 2019, passed by the House by voice vote, would increase funding for disabled veterans to adapt their houses from $83,000 to roughly $98,000. The bill also would let eligible veterans access the funds six times, instead of three, and give them access to the full amount every 10 years.
The bill is named for Ryan Kules, a retired Army captain who lost his right arm and left leg to a roadside bomb in Taji, Iraq, in 2005. As a double amputee, he took advantage of a special grant program at the Department of Veterans Affairs to adapt his home to accommodate his disabilities.
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But the $83,000 didn't cover the full cost of the renovations to his home. And now, with a growing family, Kules is moving again, but he will need to pay the $90,000 cost of adapting the new house out of pocket.
The legislation, if approved, would change that.
"[Tuesday's] vote is a great step toward ensuring wounded veterans have access to flexible resources to adapt their homes, which helps meet their changing needs throughout life," said Kules, who serves as director of combat stress recovery at the Wounded Warrior Project.
"Peace of mind is what it's about ... just knowing that wherever we choose to live, just like anybody else would want that flexibility, we would have that opportunity," he told reporters earlier this month.
In addition to the changes to the Specially Adapted Housing (SAH) Grant program, the bill contains several other provisions designed to improve the quality of life of veterans and their dependents.
The measure would expand eligibility for the Fry Scholarship to the spouses and children of National Guard and Reserve members who died of a service-connected condition but weren't on active duty at the time of their death.
And it would extend the adaptive housing grant program to blind veterans. Currently, a blind veteran must also have at least one amputation to qualify.
"Service members make incredible sacrifices for our freedom, and it is our responsibility to support them when they return home -- particularly when they return with wounds from their service," said Rep. Mike Levin, D-California, who co-sponsored the bill with Reps. Gus Bilirakis, R-Florida, and Phil Roe, R-Tennessee.
A similar measure has been introduced in the Senate, the Paul Benne Specially Adaptive Housing Improvement Act, sponsored by Sens. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Arizona, and Jerry Moran, R-Kansas. It -- or the House version -- would have to pass the Senate before becoming law.