NSCIA Front Lines: Housing for Vets, Accessible Cabs in our Capital

Housing for Vets

Heather

One of our core beliefs at VetsFirst is that veterans who acquire disabilities must have the supports and services they need to reintegrate into their communities and achieve independence. An important aspect of community living for any person with a disability is access to affordable, accessible housing. The absence of housing that can accommodate the needs of an individual with a disability is a barrier to community reintegration.

VetsFirst fully supports existing VA programs that have provided critical assistance to many disabled veterans. However, veterans who have disabilities that are not related to their military service are not eligible for some of these programs. Also, veterans who have a service-connected disability but who are not rated as permanent and total are limited in which funds they can access.

To meet the unmet housing needs of these veterans, VetsFirst has always been a supporter of increased public-private partnerships between nonprofits and government agencies. We believe the Housing Assistance for Veterans Act (H.R. 3743/S. 1387) is a positive step in that direction and are currently working to secure its passage. The HAVEN Act would provide grants to national housing nonprofits to perform housing adaptations and repairs for low-income or disabled veterans. During these difficult budget times, it is more important than ever that we work in partnership to develop solutions to gaps in benefits.

We believe that by working together we will be able to ensure full community reintegration for all veterans living with significant disabilities.

More about Existing VA Programs

Specially Adapted Housing: The Specially Adapted Housing program provides assistance with modifying or building an accessible house for veterans or service members who are permanently and totally disabled as the result of a disability connected to their military service. The veteran, or service member, must have a qualifying disability such as loss of or inability to use both legs, or loss of or inability to use both arms. The funds may be used to construct or remodel a house, or can be applied against the unpaid principal of an already acquired adapted house. Individuals who qualify are currently eligible for a maximum of $67,555 of assistance.

Special Housing Adaptation: The Special Housing Adaptation program provides assistance with modifying a house or acquiring a home that has already been modified for veterans or service members who are permanently and totally disabled as result of a service-connected disability. Individuals must have qualifying disabilities such as loss of or inability to use both hands. The program currently provides a maximum benefit of $13,511.

Temporary Residence Adaptation: The Temporary Residence Adaptation program is available to veterans and service members who are or will be living temporarily in a home owned by a family member. To receive this grant, the individual must be eligible for either the Specially Adapted Housing or the Special Housing Adaptation programs.

Housing Improvements and Structural Alterations: The other major program available to veterans is the VA’s Housing Improvements and Structural Alterations grant. This program is available to both veterans who have a disability related to their military service and those who have disabilities that are not service connected. Veterans may use these funds for alterations such as improved access to the home, bathroom and kitchen.

VetsFirst advocates for the programs, services, and disability rights that help all generations of veterans with disabilities remain independent. Our advocacy focuses on ensuring access to Department of Veterans Affairs financial and health care benefits and housing, transportation and employment services and opportunities. We focus not only on veterans living with SCI but also those who are living with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries. Find out more at www.vetsfirst.org.

Advocacy

Accessible Cabs in our Capital
In Washington, D.C., United Spinal leads a Disability Advisory Committee that includes advocates, taxi representatives and city officials. The newly mandated committee was tasked with writing an annual report on the progress of, and recommendations toward, increasing accessible taxi service in the nation’s capital.

Two of the District’s taxi companies currently provide 20 accessible cabs, making up .3 percent of the entire fleet. The majority of the committee recommended a 100 percent accessible fleet of taxis, and a plan to reach that goal, for all visitors, workers, and residents of the District. “The most significant benefit of establishing a 100 percent accessible taxi fleet is the acknowledgement of the worth and rights of all Americans, and that individuals with disabilities should have the same rights and privileges to live and work in, and visit our nation’s capital,” the report said.

Inclusive taxis offer wheelchair access, but also provide payment services for passengers who are blind or deaf, ensure access to passengers with service animals, and assist those who are nondisabled but would benefit from the added convenience of an accessible taxi. Until that 100 percent goal is reached, taxicab companies with more than 20 cabs in their fleet are now required to dedicate at least some portion to wheelchair accessible taxis: (6 percent by Dec. 31, 2014, 12 percent by 2016 and 20 percent by 2018).

Along with other disability advocates, United Spinal was a plaintiff in a now-settled lawsuit that could result in requiring half of all taxis in New York City to be accessible. United Spinal is currently leading an effort to ensure Mayor DeBlasio and city officials live up to the previous administration’s promises.

In addition, United Spinal is paying attention to the rise of transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft. These TNCs act as a conduit between luxury sedan drivers or volunteer drivers. TNCs are currently highly unregulated and are unlikely to offer accessible service.

United Spinal is heartened and congratulates Spinal Cord Injury Ontario advocates in Canada who also have been campaigning for accessible taxis, and recently won. The Toronto City Council voted on Feb. 19, 2014, to require that all taxis are inclusive by 2024. United Spinal will continue its efforts to ensure transportation equity for all. If you are interested in being involved or sharing your stories, please contact Carol Tyson, senior policy associate, at ctyson@unitedspinal.org.

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