Katherine Grandstrand, Published December 27 2013
Sen. Heitkamp sponsors bill to help disabled vets stay in their homes
The North Dakota Democrat, along with Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., introduced in the Senate the Vulnerable Veterans Housing Reform Act of 2013. The House passed similar legislation in October.
The act changes the way the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development calculates disabled veterans’ income, by subtracting their veterans’ pension from their income.
“For the most part, we’d like to keep our veterans in their homes as long as we can,” said Lonnie Wangen, commissioner of the North Dakota Department of Veterans Affairs. “This would be a little less expensive and have less chance of losing their property and savings.”
While the pension isn’t a very large amount, it can push some veterans over the line for qualifying for some state and federal housing assistance programs, such as utility allowance, Wangen said.
Allowing disabled veterans in need of aid and attendance – home health care – to stay in their homes keeps them out of VA housing, which in turn might make room for those more in need, Wangen said.
“If you can stay in your own home and be happy and be around your family, that’s probably the best,” Wangen said. “If you have no family around, moving to a home may be better because you’re going to be around other veterans, other people more often.”
Heitkamp was inspired to co-sponsor the bill after hearing stories from veterans across North Dakota this summer.
“It’s just trying to fix some of the VA rules and regulations that really limit access to adaptable housing for our returning veterans,” Heitkamp said. “What we’ve been trying to do here is really focus our attention … is trying to anticipate what the needs are of our returning vets and how we can better accommodate those needs.”