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Bill would help disabled veterans remodel homes

LA GRANGE – For a Marine who lost his legs in an explosion in Afghanistan, learning to walk on prosthetics was not the only challenge. His family also had to come up with the money to extensively remodel their home in the Chicago area to make it accessible.

On Saturday, U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk toured the house in the southwest suburb of La Grange as part of his push for a Senate bill that would help disabled veterans like Lance Cpl. Josh Misiewicz.

The Marine was on patrol in southern Afghanistan's Helmand province when he was hit by a roadside bomb in July 2011. The blast shattered his eardrums and he lost both legs. Since then, he has endured rehabilitation and surgeries at Walter Reed National Military Medical Hospital in Maryland.

Back in La Grange, his mother, Nancy, was faced with costly renovations she could not afford but needed so that Misiewicz could be comfortable. The house needed a roll-in shower, widened doors, accessible appliances and an elevator-like lift.

A group called Rebuilding Together stepped in to help, as did Sears' Heroes at Home program.

Illinois is home to more than 700,000 military veterans and nearly 80,000 of them have service-related disabilities, according to Kirk's office.

Kirk said he wants to see more groups coming to the aid of low-income and disabled military veterans and the Senate bill is designed to encourage that.

The senator had to make some modifications to his own home north of Chicago in Highland Park after suffering a stroke in January 2012 that left him partially paralyzed on his left side.

Kirk signed on as a co-sponsor to the Senate bill this past week. It's known as the HAVEN Act, which stands for Housing Assistance for Veterans.

The legislation, which has not yet been voted on by either chamber, would set up a pilot project to provide grants to organizations that help disabled or low-income veterans remodel their homes. The organizations would have to provide matching funds.

The bill authorizes the appropriation of $4 million each fiscal year over a four-year pilot period.

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