Bill Exempts Certain Veterans’ Benefits from Being Considered as Income when Applying for HUD Housing
BISMARCK, N.D. – (RealEstateRama) — U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp today announced that the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives have passed bipartisan legislation she introduced with Republican Senator Dean Heller from Nevada to help vulnerable veterans secure housing. The bill now goes to the President’s desk to be signed into law.
The Vulnerable Veterans Housing Reform Act, which was included in a broader piece of housing legislation, would exempt a financial benefit for disabled veterans from being considered as income when veterans are applying for Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) housing assistance. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) provides the aid and attendance benefit to veterans with little or no income so they can afford to put a roof over their heads.
“No veteran in North Dakota should struggle to find a place to call home,” said Heitkamp. “This bipartisan bill will help guarantee disabled veterans in our state and beyond have access to affordable housing, and that benefits they receive for disabilities aren’t counted against them when they apply for housing. After veterans risk everything to serve our country, we need to do everything we can to help support them – and this bill helps accomplish that goal.”
VA distributes the aid and attendance benefit as part of an enhanced pension program. The benefit is specifically designed for wartime veterans who are severely disabled and have little or no income. A number of these veterans also rely on housing assistance through HUD.
Under current law, the aid and attendance benefit is counted as income when determining eligibility for housing assistance through HUD, which ultimately reduces the availability of housing assistance for low-income, severely disabled vets. Heitkamp and Heller’s bill exempts any expenses related to a veteran’s aid and attendance benefits from being considered income by HUD.
Heitkamp has long fought to support North Dakota veterans and servicemembers. In May, Heitkamp successfully pressed VA to bring a five-day Vet Center to Grand Forks – a major victory for veterans throughout the region, who no longer have to drive to Fargo for the counseling and readjustment services Vet Centers provide. The Vet Center opened in May, with counseling and readjustment services available to combat veterans, servicemembers, and their families.
Heitkamp has also worked to stand up for North Dakota veterans by:
- Pressing VA Secretary for better care: In November 2015, Heitkamp pressed VA Secretary Robert McDonald for a Grand Forks Vet Center to help address the mental and physical health challenges many newly returning veterans experience. The next month, Heitkamp pushed McDonald to visit North Dakota to see the challenges rural veterans face. In February, Heitkamp pressed VA Under Secretary Shulkin on the immediate need for a Vet Center in Grand Forks.
- Helping newly returning veterans readjust to civilian life: Heitkamp has long pressed for policies that connect new veterans with services they need to readjust to civilian life. Last summer, Heitkamp reintroduced her bipartisan Connect with Veterans Act to address challenges newly returning veterans in North Dakota face in attaining employment opportunities, education assistance, and health care.
- Strengthening resources for mental health support: The bipartisan year-end spending bill Congress passed in December, which Heitkamp supported, included $258 million for Readjustment Counseling Services, which is $15 million above the requested level. The increased funds are directed toward Vet Centers to address unmet mental health needs of veterans in rural areas like North Dakota.