Reasons & Remarks – Housing Grant

Paralyzed Veterans of America National President David Zurfluh advocates for housing grant

By Tom Fjerstad

Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) National President David Zurfluh delivered PVA’s annual testimony to a joint session of the House and Senate Committees on Veterans’ Affairs March 3.

During his testimony, Zurfluh advocated PVA’s support for legislation currently proposing improvements to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Specially Adapted Housing grant. The proposals would increase the amount of the grant, the number of times it can be used, add a supplemental grant and give prioritization to veterans with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

After his testimony, Zurfluh answered questions from members of Congress and aptly explained the need for passage of this legislation. In this world of ever-changing technology, a veteran who used this grant just a few years ago didn’t, at the time, have access to the smart home technology that exists today.

This technology is something that PVA Publications is constantly monitoring and is one of the many reasons we travel to Las Vegas each year for the consumer electronics trade show known as CES. Recent advances in home technology can truly be life-changing for those with disabilities, making the tasks of daily living both easier and safer.

Many of the basic needs for independent living are the same today as they were in 1948 when then-PVA National President Robert Moss made a plea in the July issue of PN regarding the need for special assistance to acquire accessible housing. He wrote:

“Though we are small in number, most of you have probably seen one or more of us.

“Possibly you have seen a young man in a wheelchair at one of the theatres. He might have been accompanied by a young lady who was either his wife, fiancée or just a friend. The desires, the aims, the outlook of a paraplegic are quite similar to your own.

“We, too, like the theatre. Possibly you were one of the 18,000 in Madison Square Garden on March 10, 1948, when two paraplegic teams played basketball in wheelchairs. We, too, like sports. Occasionally, you may have seen a photo in a newspaper showing the marriage ceremony of a young lady and a man in a wheelchair. We, too, like marriage. Possibly you have visited a hospital and heard the outbursts of laughter when someone told a good joke. We, too, like to laugh.

“If these joys of daily living are to continue, the hospitals cannot be our permanent residences … we must leave them and live at home.”

Moss detailed how inaccessible a home can be for someone in a wheelchair and that even reaching for a towel, soap dish or electrical outlet can be difficult. He wrote that things like that are “all — very simple everyday occurrences usually not given a single thought — until you find you can’t do them.”

He ended his column by writing, “A paraplegic is physically capable of doing all these things if the house he lives in is physically capable of letting him do them.”

That same year, HR 4244 (An Act To Authorize Assistance To Certain Veterans In Acquiring Specially Adapted Housing Which They Require By Reason Of The Nature Of Their Service-Connected Disabilities) was sent to the House Committee on Banking and Currency, where it stalled.

On June 9, 1948, PVA members swarmed Grand Central Station in New York City during the lunch hour and acquired 7,000 signatures on a petition in support of the bill. The next day, PVA was notified that the bill was out of the committee and scheduled for a vote. The bill passed the House on June 14, the Senate on June 19 and was signed into law by then-U.S. President Harry Truman the same day.

The passage of this law was unquestionably because of PVA’s efforts and resulted in the availability of up to $10,000 — the equivalent of just over $107,000 today — to eligible veterans for accessible home construction and modifications. 

PVA continues to advocate for your ability to live a safe and independent life.

Passage of the proposed modifications to the Specially Adapted Housing Grant would be a great stride in these efforts that date back to Moss and the original creation of the housing grant. We’ll keep you posted on this bill’s progress.

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