New invoice would shield service members with disabled members of the family from extra housing prices – U.S.

AUSTIN, Texas – Army wife Brittney Fourtner has difficulty moving around after multiple back surgeries and found the carpet particularly difficult to navigate in her Fort Bragg, NC home.

For eight months after moving in, she asked the housing department to remove it. Then, in August, she tripped over it, fell, and broke her back.

After her injury, the company sent workers to repair the carpet. They used duct tape and told Fourtner that if she wanted the carpet removed it would cost her about $ 8,000.

A bill introduced by the House last week seeks to clarify that private companies that rent to military families on bases cannot charge fees for upgrades necessary to cover a resident’s disability.

Fourtner, 30, said she knew federal law already required a company receiving federal aid to make reasonable accommodation arrangements to assist the tenant’s disability. So she struggled.

Fourtner, who also suffers from a seizure disorder, walks with a cane or a walker and occasionally uses a wheelchair. She said the fall broke a vertebra in her back and required spinal fusion surgery to repair it.

“At that point, I finally had enough,” she said.

Fourtner said she threatened to sue Corvias, the private company that manages family accommodations in Fort Bragg, for violating federal law. The company admitted and removed most of the carpet from the house.

A Corvias Army memo states that Fourtner’s house with the carpet complied with the Disabled Americans Act.

In a statement, a company spokeswoman said it has significantly increased the number of accessible and adaptable homes available to residents and is regularly working to provide free housing.

“We are compliant and take a highly coordinated approach to support the needs of our residents thoughtfully and promptly,” the statement said.

The Military Housing Advocacy Network, a nonprofit that helps military families with grassroots housing problems, including Fourtner, conducted a survey of 100 families in need of ADA-compliant housing or adequate housing in their homes. This practice has been found by companies incriminating military families for disabled accommodation across the country and in various service sectors, leaving families in homes that can limit an individual’s independence.

Of these families, 46% said they were denied changes in their home and 20% said they were billed for work or forced to pay for materials. The requirements can range from grab bars in bathrooms to bathrooms with higher toilets to walk-in showers, ramps or extended doors and hallways.

After seeing the housing network poll results, Rep. Stephanie Bice, a newly elected Republican from Oklahoma and a member of the House Armed Services Committee, introduced the law to protect military families with disabilities.

“I have noticed that private contractor families are billed thousands of dollars in expenses for necessary ADA upgrades to basic housing units. That’s unacceptable, ”said Bice. “Military families suffer enough stress and financial stress without the burden of having to modernize the housing provided by the military for a disabled family member.”

The proposed legislation is a one-paragraph bill to prevent families from paying fees – beyond rent – for necessary ADA upgrades to their homes.

In many cases, changes will be required as most bases have a small percentage of fully ADA compliant homes. So when families arrive with a disabled member, availability is limited, said Noelle Pacl, a Navy wife and lawyer for the advocacy network. Some homes included in this inventory do not fully comply with ADA regulations, but are described as “easily modifiable” to meet requirements.

The Department of Defense requires 5% of homes on bases to be accessible or easily modified. However, the Marine Corps raised this standard to require 8% of homes to meet service requirements.

“Some families give up because there is so much going on. They say, “I’ll just adjust to what’s going on in my house,” Pacl said. “It’s just easier to do than sit here and beg for anything.”

Approximately 140,000 military family members participate in the Extraordinary Family Membership Program, a mandatory program for all military personnel with special medical or educational needs, according to the Department of Defense’s Special Needs Office. But not all family members in the program require ADA housing or choose to live on a base. Service member rank and availability of base housing can also play a role in availability for the family. In order to be able to access basic ADA houses, registration for the program is required.

Joy Strong, an Air Force spouse, said not only is family quality of life important, but having a service member’s family feel safe in their home can also improve preparedness. When her family arrived at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri last year, Strong said they had been given a home that is labeled ADA-compliant, but the hallways were so narrow she couldn’t navigate them with her wheelchair. Requests to move to a more accessible home have been denied.

Strong has Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, which causes joints to shift frequently throughout the body. One morning she woke up with a dislocation in her neck. Because of the narrow hallways and doors, the paramedics could not put her apartment on a stretcher and carry her out of the bedroom. You had to put them on and risk paralysis, she said.

Since then, Strong has moved to a more accessible home that will fit the wheelchair she occasionally needs, but only after battling Balfour Beatty and ultimately forwarding her request for a safer home to the company’s senior management. This came after the private company that manages the housing for the base first tried to get Strong to buy their own modifications for the house, such as wall-mounting their TV to add more space for a medical bed to accomplish.

“My husband isn’t that scared and leaves me alone,” said Strong. “If he has to [travel]or has something to do with his work, he has a little less stress because when I’m in my wheelchair I can get to where I need to go. “

A spokesman for the Balfour Beatty Communities said the company is not making reasonable changes to residents with disabilities.

“We take all of our obligations to comply with applicable laws and our contractual obligations under the Fair Housing Act, Disabled Americans Act, and other similar state or local laws very seriously. We also actively support the Department of Defense’s Extraordinary Family Membership program, as well as the service members and their families who participate in this program and identify themselves as such, ”the statement said.

But Bice said cases where additional fees are charged on apartment buildings often go unnoticed and many families who encounter the fees are unaware that they are illegal.

“A family serving our country, whose family members are putting their lives on the line, must face the challenges of having military shelter work for their family, and I think that’s the last thing for me Families should be concerned. They likely move every few years, uprooting families, new schools, new communities. That is much. And this is just one more thing for you to work through and I want to make sure you don’t bother with it, ”she said.

Pacl said they were so grateful to have Bice’s support.

“I have seen firsthand the physical, mental, and financial difficulties military families with disabilities faced when trying to make reasonable accommodations and / or changes in their privatized military homes. Military families with disabilities are entitled to nationwide protected rights that should be clearly defined, ”she said.

Bice’s bill was also supported by the Oklahoma Veterans Council and Paralyzed Veterans of America. Rep. Sara Jacobs, a California Democrat and House member, agreed to support the bill.

“[The proposed bill] is a straightforward, bipartisan bill that will prevent those who serve our country from being charged and potentially save military families from significant costs, “she said.

The housing network survey also caught the attention of Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., And Thom Tillis, RN.C. The senators urged each housing association to provide them with information on their policies for residents with disabilities.

In a letter to the Senators, Corvias wrote that the results of the survey “simply do not conform to our policies or current practice” and that the trained staff take due account of any changes or accommodation requests made by residents. It also states that the company is not required to abide by the same laws as government assisted housing and is therefore able to bill residents for reasonable changes.

The letter states that requests to replace carpets with vinyl plank floors, such as Fourtner’s request, are common. While the company believes this should not cover the cost, it wrote, “Our community will generally pay for this as the carpet nears the end of its useful life. If the carpet is new we can ask the resident to pay for the change, but not ask for the house to be returned to its original condition. “

Fourtner said she requested her home’s maintenance history and learned that the carpet was around 12 years old.

She said she was excited about the legislation but worried about enforcement. Despite all of the reforms housing construction has faced over the past two years, it still faces so many families with challenges that should be addressed.

“How are you going to make sure these companies are actually doing what they’re supposed to be doing?” Asked Fourtner.

[email protected]
Twitter: @Rose_Lori

Comments are closed.