VA home loans are, by design, a way for service members to become homeowners even if they are early in their military careers but providing a low-cost mortgage with little investment up front including a no-money-down mortgage option.
Veterans, service members, and “certain qualifying spouses” of military members who have died on duty or as a result of active duty are eligible to apply for a VA mortgage once the service member has done a minimum amount of time on duty.
VA mortgages are also flexible, (aside from not setting a minimum FICO score requirement and leaving that to the lender) and may be even more affordable for those who receive or are eligible to receive VA compensation for service-connected disabilities.
The HISA Grant For Veterans With Or Without A Service-Connected Disability
HISA is an acronym for the Home Improvements and Structural Alterations (HISA) grant which may be able to help you adapt a home even if your disability is not 100% service-connected. The HISA grant is offered whether your disability is service-connected or not. This grant provides what the VA terms “medically necessary” alterations or improvements to the home.
This grant is only available to make alterations to a homeowner’s primary residence and must be used for purposes including:
- Modifications to make entrances and exits accessible
- Installation of “essential lavatory and sanitary facilities” such as a walk-in tub or roll-in shower
- Improving or adding accessibility to kitchen and bathroom sinks, counters, etc.
- Improving entrance paths & driveways
- Upgrading or improving mechanical and/or electrical systems in the home to accommodate medical equipment
HISA grants cannot be used to pay for modifications to walkways on “exterior buildings,” they cannot be used to buy a spa, jacuzzi, or hot tub, or to install exterior decks. These grants cannot be used in new construction projects.
How Much HISA Grants Provide
There is a lifetime cap on HISA benefits; $6,800 (at the time of this writing) may be offered to:
- Veterans and Servicemembers with service-connected conditions
- Veterans with non-service connected conditions rated at 50% or more service connected
- Veterans with a non-service connected condition can qualify for as much as $2,000 total over the lifetime of the vet
Specially Adapted Housing (SAH) Grant
Veterans with qualifying service-connected medical issues may be eligible to apply for a VA Specially Adapted Housing grant to help them live, as the VA describes it, “independently in a barrier-free environment.” An SAH grant may be used to build, buy, or modify homes that meet the following conditions:
- The applicant wants to build a specially adapted home (with land to be purchased by the veteran)
- The applicant wishes to construct a home on land already owned
- They want to remodel an existing home with an appropriate structure for specially adapted housing
- The applicant wishes to use grant funds toward reducing a the principal loan amount of a home already purchased without the help of a VA grant
The dollar amount for these grants may change from year to year; one year’s SAH cap was set at roughly $90,364. One very important detail about these grants is that there are limited funds; only so many veterans can qualify each year for this money. Apply as early as you can for best results.
The VA Special Housing Adaptation (SHA) Grant
Special Housing Adaptation grants help qualifying veterans with disabilities adapt or purchase a home (no investment properties) with the intent of modifying the property to enhance its accessibility. The SHA grant guidelines state these grants may be used to:
- Adapt an existing home (no investment properties or any other house that is not to be used the veteran’s home address during occupancy)
- Adapt an existing home owned by a veteran’s family member so the veteran can live there
- Adapt a home the veteran or family member intends to purchase (no investment real estate, restricted to primary residences only)
- Purchase a primary residence
This grant is open to those with qualifying conditions connected to military service. Not all medical conditions or disabilities qualify for this grant; the criteria includes but may not be limited to:
- Blindness in both eyes with 20/200 visual acuity or less, OR
- Loss of both hands, OR
- Loss of use of both hands, OR
- Certain severe burn injuries, OR
- Certain severe respiratory injuries
Contact your nearest VA office to learn how to apply. You can also try a VA Regional Loan Center, or call the central VA hotline at 1-800 827-1000 to learn more.
Temporary Residence Adaptation (TRA) Grant
Eligible veterans and service members who must temporarily live with a family member may qualify for a Temporary Residence Adaption Grant, which was created for the purpose of temporarily modifying a home in such cases to meet accessibility needs of the disabled vet.
TRA grants are not deducted from the total grant funds available to the applicant (refer to the rules listed above), but TRA grants are deducted “from one of the three usages available to the Veteran or service member.”
As many as three grant usages per property may be permitted between the various programs. Contact your nearest VA office to learn how to apply.
How To Apply For These Grants
Applying For HISA
If you want to apply for the HISA benefit, you must complete an application that includes a prescription written or approved by a VA physician with the following details:
- Beneficiary name, address and telephone number
- Information about the proposed improvements or alterations
- The “diagnosis and medical justification” for the alterations or improvements
The application process requires VA Form 10-0103, Veterans Application For Assistance In Acquiring Home Improvement and Structural Alterations. In cases where the property to be modified is a rental unit, a notarized statement from the landlord authorizing the project(s) must accompany your application.
Applying For SAH and SHA Grants
To apply for one of these grants, you will need VA Form 26-4555, Application in Acquiring Specially Adapted Housing or Special Home Adaptation Grant.
Get this form and apply in one of the following ways:
- Online at ebenefits.va.gov
- Download VA Form 26-4555, Application in Acquiring Specially Adapted Housing or Special Home Adaptation Grant and mail it to the VA Regional Loan Center (RLC) near you with jurisdiction in your area. You can find your nearest RLC at the VA official site (VA.gov) or call 1-800 827-1000.
- You can also begin with a visit to your nearest VA office; find yours at VA Regional Office Locations.
VA Home Loans For Disabled Veterans: The Basics
VA mortgages have a similar application process regardless of whether you have a VA disability rating or not. But for disabled veterans, there are some extra considerations.
If you have not received a VA disability rating from the Department of Veterans Affairs, you won’t be able to claim the added benefits under the VA loan program you are entitled to until your VA record reflects the official VA rating decision.
That said, your loan officer may have a workaround or a method of reducing the hassle associated with such circumstances; if you are ready for a mortgage even though your VA decision is still pending, don’t hesitate to start talking to a lender to learn what you must do to get the most out of your VA mortgage.
And for those who earned Purple Heart awards and are still on active duty? Your VA home loan funding fee waiver is available to you thanks to the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act as long as you can provide evidence of the Purple Heart award prior to closing time.
What You Need To Know About The VA Loan Funding Fee
The VA loan funding fee is payable at closing time, and it can also be included in the loan. We’ve mentioned people who are exempt from paying this fee; who makes it into the comprehensive list of those exempt from paying the VA loan funding fee? According to the Department of Veterans Affairs:
- Veterans receiving VA compensation for a service-connected disability
- Veteran entitled to receive VA compensation for a service-connected disability, but who choose to draw military retirement pay instead
- Surviving spouses of a military member who died in service, from a service-connected cause, or who was totally disabled and receiving VA Dependency and Indemnity Compensation
- Servicemembers who have a “proposed or memorandum rating” from the VA (before the loan closing date) as “eligible to receive compensation as a result of a pre-discharge claim”
- Servicemembers on active duty awarded the Purple Heart who furnish evidence of the award before closing time
VA Disability Ratings And Your Home Loan
When your VA disability rating process is finished and you get a VA award letter (or the electronic record is updated with the new information), you will be entitled to several VA home loan benefits those without a VA disability rating cannot enjoy.
One of those benefits? A VA mortgage or refinance loan applicant who has a VA disability rating is exempt from paying the VA loan funding fee.
For those who are required to pay, a fee of 2.30% (at the time of this writing, the fee is subject to change via legislation or policy amendments) is due at closing time.
The benefits of these perks are undeniable; not paying a VA loan funding fee, not owing a big down payment, and the availability of VA grants to modify a residence to make it more accessible for those with qualifying service-connected medical issues? These turn a home loan into something to be taken seriously as a cost-effective way to stay as independent as possible and live in a home suitable for the owner.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News