Veteran Advisor - Adaptive Vehicles
The adaptive equipment and training needed to safely get in and out and/or drive can get pricey.
Who doesn’t love a great roadtrip? It’s a feeling of freedom and independence, especially for those of us who rely on a wheelchair for mobility. However, the adaptive equipment and training needed to safely get in and out and/or drive can get pricey. After you’ve spent all your savings on that new truck or car, it’s useless if you still need to add hand controls, lifts or other adaptive equipment. This is where the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) Automobile Adaptive Equipment (AAE) program comes into play. The program provides the necessary equipment and training to outfit a vehicle to allow a veteran to safely enter, exit and/or operate it. This can be achieved with adaptive equipment such as lifts, lowered floors and hand controls, just to name a few. The primary concern is the safety of the veteran and other people on the road. A team of physicians, driver rehabilitation specialists and prosthetic representatives are there to help get you back on the road.
There are two types of veterans eligible for this program — service connected and non-service connected. A service-connected veteran who is entitled to an auto grant is also eligible for AAE. The auto grant is a one-time benefit of $20,235.20 to use towards the purchase of a vehicle and can only be paid to the dealership or to the seller.
The general criteria for the grant is that the veteran must be service connected for at least one of the following disabilities:
- Loss or permanent loss of use of one or both feet
- Loss or permanent loss of use of one or both hands
- Permanent impairment of vision in both eyes
- A severe burn injury
- Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
Once the veteran’s auto grant has been processed and authorized through the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), the veteran will need to see his/her physician who will write the prescription for the adaptive equipment, which will be sent to prosthetics. Prosthetics will then work with the veteran to ensure the required documentation (Department of Veterans Affairs [VA] Form 10-1394) is submitted to VBA when processing a request for adaptive equipment for the veteran’s vehicle.
Don’t Buy The Car Until ...
VA policy requires that certain items of AAE be issued on the prescription of a physician. These prescriptions must be individually based upon the knowledge of the skills and abilities required for safe and effective driving. AAE can compensate for the limitations imposed by disease or disability, but those limitations need to be addressed on a case-by-case basis. Something important to remember is to not purchase a vehicle until authorized by the VA (meaning receiving an authorized VA Form 21-4502). VA is required by law to pay the benefit to the seller of the vehicle. Payment can’t be made to the veteran or serviceperson. These vehicles may not be sold or given to family members or any other party residing in the same household of the veteran or transferred to a business owned by the veteran. The AAE is a benefit that can be used to adapt up to two vehicles in a four-year period.
Non service-connected veterans are not eligible for the auto grant. However, they are eligible for certain items like van lifts, raised doors, air conditioning and wheelchair tie-downs for passenger use through medical services, provided the equipment is medically necessary for the care and treatment of the veteran. Vehicle modifications, such as van lifts and raised doors, may be furnished to eligible veterans who use a wheelchair when necessary to allow such people to enter and exit. Operational equipment, hand controls, power brakes, power steering, automatic transmission, etc., will not be authorized. If medically prescribed (both service connected and non-service connected), a veteran can be reimbursed for repairs for certain items. As an example, an air conditioner can be paid for if a veteran has multiple sclerosis or a spinal-cord injury. Again, VA policy requires that certain items of AAE be issued on the prescription of a physician. Prosthetics will then work with the veteran to ensure the required documentation (VA Form 10-1394) is processed. A non-service connected veteran who is eligible for AAE can have one vehicle adapted. The veteran must show proof of disposition for at least one vehicle to be eligible for reimbursement of another.
Standard equipment is no longer paid for unless it’s an out-of-pocket expense. That means things like power windows aren’t reimbursable unless a veteran had to pay extra out of pocket. The VA, at one time, was reimbursing the veteran for these items; however, this is no longer the case. Only approved equipment listed in current VHA directives may be furnished to eligible persons.
For more information, visit pva.org.
A Navy veteran, Diego Suazo is a PVA NSO in Phoenix.
Veteran Advisor - Adaptive Vehicles
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