WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) – both members of Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee – introduced the Paul Benne Specially Adaptive Housing Improvement Act of 2019 to expand Specially Adapted Housing (SAH) eligibility for seriously injured or ill veterans. This legislation is named after Spring Hill, Kan. native, Army Colonel (Ret.) Paul Benne, MD, MPH.
U.S. Representatives Gus Bilirakis (FL-12), David Roe (TN-01) and Mike Levin (CA-49) introduced companion legislation, the Ryan Kules Specially Adaptive Housing Improvement Act of 2019, in the U.S. House of Representatives.
In 2013, Col. Benne developed a medical condition that led to his retirement from the U.S. Army after 23 years of service. Col. Benne was rated 100 percent disabled at the time of his retirement. In 2016, Col. Benne was fitted by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for a wheelchair and applied for an SAH grant, as neither the Benne’s home nor vehicle could accommodate his new wheelchair. After more than a year of navigating the VA, Col. Benne and his wife, Christine, contacted Sen. Moran’s office for assistance. Within three months of Sen. Moran’s office working with Col. Benne to engage the VA, Col. Benne was given a favorable decision on his adaptive housing claim and provided SAH grants.
This legislation – developed to prevent future difficulties similar to those Col. Benne faced while trying to access an SAH grant – would give seriously ill veterans priority consideration for SAH grants, with the definition of “seriously ill” to be determined by the secretary of the VA; would double the maximum number of awarded grants from 3 to 6 per veteran; and would increase the number of authorized applications per Fiscal Year from 30 to 120.
“This legislation will serve veterans who may need similar assistance to that received by Colonel Benne by expanding SAH eligibility qualifications for seriously ill or injured veterans,” said Sen. Moran. “This modernized and expanded grant program will allow veterans to utilize vital SAH grants in a way that best fit their needs – providing greater support and improving the quality of life for many of our nation’s veterans. Thank you to Colonel Benne and his wife, Christine, for their decades of selfless service to our nation and for their advocacy, resiliency and willingness to share their story, which will undoubtedly help many veterans in the future.”
“Many veterans carry wounds from their service that make everyday life more challenging,” said Sen. Sinema. “That is why our bill is so important; it breaks down barriers and helps veterans access the specially adaptive housing benefits they’ve earned.”
“Sen. Moran is good about putting veterans first,” said Army Colonel (Ret.) Benne, MD, MPH. “This SAH grant has given me the ability to stay at home and my family the ability to better care for me. As my disease continues to change, the ability to change my surroundings will be met with this legislation.”
“We are pleased with the introduction of S. 2022,” said Paralyzed Veterans of America Executive Director Carl Blake. “This legislation is very important to PVA members because it will provide critical improvements to the Specially Adaptive Housing benefits that help them live healthy, productive lives in homes that meet there needs in their communities. We look forward to its swift passage.”
“S. 2022 will improve the quality of life for many wounded warriors and their families by helping ensure their homes fit their abilities,” said Wounded Warrior Project CEO Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Mike Linnington. “We are grateful to Sen. Jerry Moran for sponsoring this bill and to Sen. Kyrsten Sinema for co-sponsoring, and we thank them both for their leadership and great fidelity to our nation’s wounded warriors.”
“Wounded warriors face unique challenges in recovering from their injuries,” said Wounded Warrior Project Combat Stress Recovery Program Director Former U.S. Army Capt. Ryan Kules. “The Specially Adapted Housing benefit has helped me tremendously, and renewing this benefit every 10 years will help ensure wounded veterans’ homes can be adapted as our needs change throughout our lives.”
Col. Benne, a Spring Hill, Kan. native and University of Kansas School of Pharmacy graduate, served on both Fort Riley and Fort Leavenworth during his 23 years of service in the United States Army, most recently as chief of the Department of Public Health at Irwin Army Medical Hospital on Fort Riley. He and his wife, Christine, reside in Manhattan, Kan.