Bill Van Aken’s smile and wave are essential in the VA Sierra Nevada prosthetic division. The army veteran has served in VA for the past 21 years, including serving as a rating specialist in the VBA’s Reno office, and now for the past eight years in prosthetics.
Van Aken has seen many changes in these facilities, but one has influenced him more than any other: doorknobs.
Van Aken is amputated. His colleagues playfully make fun of his age and mention that he was there in person when they signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) on June 23, 1990, 31 years ago.
“The ADA has a wide reach that includes many areas for people with disabilities who need support to work and live independently,” he said.
Examples? The ADA makes it illegal to discriminate against a qualified person with a disability in employment. The ADA also prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in state and local government services, public housing, transportation, and telecommunications.
And employers cannot deny reasonable accommodation for demonstrated or obvious disabilities. Nor can employers take revenge against you if you ask for accommodation for the disabled.
Back to those doorknobs
Imagine you have a prosthesis for your right arm and hand. You are holding an arm full of documents in your left arm. The only way through the door in front of you is to turn a doorknob. Van Aken was left standing at the other end of that door many times, knocking and waiting for someone to open it.
During his time at VBA, he asked for one thing: replace the door handles with door handles. VBA made the change and VA Reno did the same. “I didn’t have to rely on anyone else to get my job done, and that was huge for me,” he said.
VA also has many programs for disabled veterans that can not only help find a job but even help set up a home to meet ADA standards.
For example, if a veteran has stairs into their home and is in a wheelchair or using a walker, VA can provide ramps into the home that are of a very strict standard.
“A proper ramp that gives a veteran access to their home or work place must be a foot for every inch of height and must have handrails in accordance with ADA regulations,” he said.
This only applies to a home owned by the Veteran and not to a rental. If it is a rental, the homeowner is responsible for providing these accommodations.
Home improvement grants help veterinarians renovate their homes
VA has another program called Home Improvement Special Adaptation (HISA). It enables a disabled veteran to receive a one-time grant of up to $ 6,800 to renovate their home so they can do their daily living activities.
“We’ve done hundreds of bathroom remodeling like adding a walk-in or wheelchair-accessible shower, raised toilets, and we’ve even removed carpets and installed floors like anti-slip tiles or laminate floors for veteran wheelchairs,” said Van Aken. “Everything is installed by a VA employee who is certified to install all devices in accordance with ADA regulations.”
Special Adaptive Housing and Special Home Adaptation are two other VA grants. They can assist veterans who are disabled with a home modification. These grants are usually only intended for veterans who have lost at least two limbs and are classified as “severely disabled”.
The Special Home Adaptation Grant offers up to $ 21,000, while the Special Adaptive Housing Grant offers up to $ 100,000 for modifications. Both grants are administered by the VA Loan Guarantee program.
“We could do better to make people understand.”
“Here in the prosthetics office, we work very closely with the VA loan guarantee program representative for Northern Nevada and Northern California,” said Van Aken. “We’ve done a lot of fantastic work together on behalf of our veterans.”
When asked if VA could do something better as an employer and provider of people with disabilities in the workplace, he added, “I think we as an institution are doing a great job. However, there are still a few rare individuals who are far from understanding. I think we could do better to make sure everyone understands that just because you have a disability, whatever that disability is, you are not helpless. It doesn’t mean that you can’t achieve things and do things independently. “