Federal officials want to fix up more disabled veterans’ homes, but first they need more construction experts and more projects to work on.

The Department of Veterans Affairs handed out more than 2,300 Specially Adapted Housing grants last fiscal year, a record for the program. But grant chief Jason Latona believes the effort can expand even further in coming years, if officials can make more veterans and home builders aware of the offering.

“We kind of see ourselves as ambassadors for our veterans to the construction industry,” he said. “And we try to make that connection whenever we can.

“Our builders and veterans both go into the projects with open eyes realizing that this work will be different, probably be a little dirty and messy, but we’re ready for it.”

The SAH program awards grants to veterans and service members with certain severe service-connected disabilities, to allow them to make home adjustments so they can live more independently.

Work can include installing ramps, lowering cabinets, installing walk-in showers and other such projects to accommodate individuals’ disabilities.

Three years ago, Congress amended the program to expand eligibility and allow veterans multiple uses of the grants, as their needs and housing situations change over the years. Today, the total value of the grants can exceed $100,000.

And Latona said VA officials can pair the SAH grants with other department offerings to bring those totals up even further, if the projects warrant it.

The department estimates that up to 5,000 veterans annually may be eligible for the grants, but less than half typically apply.

VA officials are upping their outreach efforts this summer in an attempt to reach more eligible individuals.

The work also includes contacting more homebuilders through trade shows and construction associations to help them understand the extra requirements for the specialty work, as well as the needs of the disabled veterans asking for the help.

The grants totaled about $150 million in fiscal 2021, with the typical project taking about 250 days to complete. In some cases, Latona said, the work requires extra design planning and specialty orders to ensure construction goals are met.

“If you’ve put in showers one way your whole life, and now you have to put in a zero-threshold shower that can hold 500 pounds of wheelchair and veteran, there are adjustments you have to make,” he said. “It’s the same kind of work for them, but somebody has to lead them to water and help them drink.”

Veterans or builders can learn more about the program through the VA website or the SAH hotline at 877-827-3702. Veterans can also apply for grants through the department’s eBenefits website.

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.

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