Veterans with service-connected illnesses that impede regular movement around, as well as in and out of, a home may qualify for VA grants. These grants allow for the building or adaptation of a house in order to improve safety and mobility. They come in two primary forms: the Specially Adapted Housing (SAH) or 2101(a) grant and the Special Housing Adaptation (SHA) or 2101(b) grant. Sound pretty similar, don’t they? Well, they are and they aren’t.
- Are designed to help veterans with certain, permanent and total service-connected disabilities create a more user-friendly home. Generally these disabilities involve loss/loss of use of limbs, blindness, or a combination of those, or certain severe burns. (Note: the SHA grant can also be used for certain respiratory conditions.)
- Determine eligibility based on the most recent VA rating.
- Pay generally (there are exceptions) 50% of the costs up to the maximum amount allowed.
- Can be used up to three times, as long as the amounts requested don’t exceed the max amount allowed for each program.
- Can be used at any point during a veteran’s life.
- Require that it be medically and financially feasible for the veteran to reside in the home.
There are, however, significant differences between the two. While the intricacies of each can be difficult to remember, the differences basically boil down to the Specially Adapted Housing (SAH) grant being the big brother of the two, with a broader scope of use, a larger maximum amount, and designed to address more egregious injuries. The chart below lays out some of the other important differences:
|Specially Adapted Housing (SAH)||Special Housing Adaptation (SHA)|
|Max allowable amount FY2014: $67,555||Max allowable amount FY2014: $13,511|
|Can be used to:
- Build a suitable home (on land already owned or land to be purchased),
- Remodel an existing home,
- Purchase an already adapted home, or
- Pay towards the “unpaid principal mortgage balance” on an adapted house that was purchased without assistance of a VA grant
|Can be used to:
- Adapt an existing, owned home,
- Adapt a home to be purchased,
- Help purchase a home that has already been suitably adapted
|Ownership requirements: Must be a permanent home owned in whole or in part by the eligible veteran and in which the veteran intends to reside||Ownership requirements: Must be a permanent home owned in whole or in part by the veteran or family member (defined as someone related to the veteran by “blood, marriage, or adoption”) and in which the veteran intends to reside|
|Examples of modifications: building of ramps and/or sidewalks, installation of lifts, modification of bathrooms or garages to provide acceptable turn radius, relocation or installation of faucets at lower heights, and/or non-slip flooring||Examples of modifications: installation of high-intensity lighting, elimination of tripping hazards, installation of special switches to turn on/off lights or open doors or installation of sliding doors|
Both grants are also eligible to be used to adapt a temporary residence, specifically the home of a family member. For example, if a servicemember or veteran will be living with a family member until such time as outpatient therapy can be completed or until a permanent, suitable residence can be located, that family member’s home can be modified. Called the Temporary Residence Assistance or 2102a grant, this can only be used once and this use counts against the three times limit mentioned above. The amount available is slightly less than half of the regular grant amount ($29,657 for FY2014 SAH and $5,295 for FY2014 SHA). If used prior to Aug 6, 2013, the amount used was subtracted from the remaining max allowable amount. However, after that date, the TRA amount is no longer deducted from the total amount available, though it does still count as one of the three allowable grants. (Note: This grant was designed to be a stopgap and was initially set to expire in 2011. It has been extended through 2022, although it could be extended beyond that time.)
As with other VA benefits, even if a veteran is eligible, he/she must still apply in order to access the grant and application does not equal grant approval. Application is required whether using the permanent or temporary version of the grant and can be made using VA Form 26-4555 (a simple, one page form), online via eBenefits, or by visiting the closest VA regional office. Although the initial application is simple, expect that more documentation will be required as the process unfolds. Examples may include: a credit report or housing loan pre-qualification letter, proof of current utility costs, letter from physician stating that veteran will be capable of independent living after adaptations have been made, proof of ownership, and VA Forms 26-4555c and 26-6807.
Once basic eligibility is established, the veteran will be assigned a Specially Adapted Housing Agent. This individual will walk the veteran through the process, including how to choose an acceptable lot, how to obtain construction bids, and even how to obtain additional financing. Additionally, veterans approved for the program will receive a copy of VA Pamphlet 26-13, Handbook for Design: Specially Adapted Housing, which provides guidelines and recommendations on everything from which way doors should be installed to how large a patio should be in order to help the veteran (and the architect/builder) choose the adaptations best suited for their situation.
Unsurprisingly, similar to other construction/remodeling projects, this is a lengthy and detailed process. Basic timeline/process:
- Application submitted
- VA contacts veteran within 7 business days
- Eligibility established
- Initial interview with housing agent within 30 business days after eligibility established
- Follow up by housing agent within 30 business days after initial interview
- Lot/housing inspection within 30 business days of initial interview
- Financial and medical feasibility study completed within 10 business days after lot/housing inspection
- Results of feasibility study given to veteran within 10 business days after completion
- Determination of conditional approval – if granted, then go to next step
- Provide satisfactory proof of ownership interest
- Discuss Veterans Mortgage Life Insurance and, if interested, file application (more info on that available here)
- Solicit a minimum of three bids
- Submit bids and other construction documents to ensure compliance with “minimum property requirements”
- Obtain a building contract that contains all VA required stipulations
- Housing agent completes cost analysis and fund disbursement schedule
- Housing agent submits grant packet for approval
- If approval received, veteran and builder notified within three business days
- All parties sign escrow agreement and establish construction start date
- Construction begins; housing agent contacts veteran and builder every 10 business days during construction
- Construction ends, followed by Final Field Review and, if approved, final payment of funds to builder
Other important details:
- Veterans may only use either the SAH or the SHA. If the veteran qualifies for the SAH, they are automatically excluded from using the SHA. However, if the veteran initially qualifies for the SHA only and later becomes eligible for the SAH, they may apply to use the SAH at that time.
- Be sure to apply and obtain grant approval prior to starting any construction or modification projects, as there are certain contractual requirements and VA is not likely to reimburse you for costs incurred without those.
- The maximum amount allowable for each grant will be adjusted each fiscal year in accordance with a cost-of-construction index. Each time a veteran applies for a grant, their max allowable amount will increase to the current allowable amount. For example, if a veteran used two grants totaling $40,000 when the max allowable was $50,000 and then applied for a third grant when the max allowable had increased to $60,000, the veteran could apply for a third grant worth a maximum of $20,000.
- The grant amount may be released in either a lump sum or in installments based on “specified construction completion phases.”
- The grants may be used in all fifty states and Puerto Rico. It may also be used in foreign countries in certain circumstances.
- Veterans, not the housing agents, maintain the right to choose location, builder, and financing. However, all builders must be licensed and register with the VA to obtain a VA Builder ID (generally takes 48-72 hours). More information on builder requirements can be found here.
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