Some military families with disabled family members “are being forced to live in homes that hinder their quality of life and in many cases are just unsafe for them,” concludes a new report.
The report is based on a small online survey of special needs families living in privatized housing, conducted by the Military Housing Advocacy Network.
They’ve kept the survey open in order to continue tracking the issues and to help those who need immediate assistance, said Rachel Christian, an advocate with the network.
Half of the respondents reported their ADA-compliant homes were missing accessibility features such as proper flooring, ramps, grab bars, and properly sized doorways and hallways. Two-thirds said their requests for those features were not responded to appropriately. In one case, a family requested ADA-compliant flooring in their home, but the housing company repeatedly refused. The disabled family member fell, and a spinal injury required hospitalization and surgery.
About 20 percent of those responding said they had to pay out of pocket for some needed items such as drop-down rails. One family had to pay for a ramp to be able to get into their home.
Another family had to put their child’s bed in their dining room because they couldn’t get a home that was accessible. The child has a condition that requires a medical scooter, and all the bedrooms were upstairs. About 46 percent of those who participated in the survey said they were denied accommodations for the disability.
“I don’t know how you look at a family and say it’s OK to have a child’s bed in the dining room,” said Christian.
The response to the survey was small, with 107 families responding. “It is a small number, but a frequent story heard,” said Christian. Wait lists for military housing that meets requirements under the Americans with Disabilities Act “are commonly discussed and a known issue. Denied or delayed accommodations are also known,” she said, and MHAN has started to see a trend in these issues.
Little research has been done on the issue. But in a broader online survey on a variety of housing issues conducted by a different nonprofit organization — the Military Family Advisory Network and released in May 2019 — 77 respondents, or 0.7 percent of the participants, said they have had issues with getting their needs met for ADA housing. Those respondents also cited issues such as wait lists for ADA housing, and difficulty getting modifications.
Based on the responses in this specific survey, MHAN recommended that the Defense Department provide oversight and training for their government housing representatives on the legal requirements for families with disabled members. In addition, MHAN recommends that lawmakers enact legislation that makes it clear the requirements for privatized housing companies to provide accessible homes to these military families.
There are about 132,500 military family members enrolled in the services’ Exceptional Family Member programs, according to a 2018 report by the Government Accountability Office. In fiscal year 2016, 39,000 EFMP families made a permanent change of station move.
Various federal laws require housing providers to provide reasonable accommodations and reasonable modifications for those with disabilities — that includes military housing. According to the United States Access Board, at least 5 percent of total housing on an installation must be either accessible or easily modifiable to be accessible. There must be at least one unit.
Some other findings:
• Some families reported that ADA homes may be available, but not for their rank.
• Move-in policies affect the availability of ADA-compliant home. One family had been on the wait list for an ADA-compliant home for more than four years. Meanwhile, the privatized housing company was placing incoming families into ADA-compliant homes when the families didn’t need an ADA-compliant home. Their policy gave precedence to incoming residents over those waiting to move into an ADA-compliant home. In some cases families are being told they have to pay for their move when an ADA-compliant home becomes available. One family was quoted $1,600 for such a move, according to the survey.
• About 12 percent of the respondents didn’t have to wait for an ADA-compliant home; but nearly 25 percent said they’re still waiting. One family surveyed said they had needed an ADA-compliant home for the past 13 years, but had never received one at any of the three installations where they lived.
• About 20 percent filed complaints of rights violations; many other families said they didn’t know they could file a complaint, or feared retaliation. But unless the family directly filed a complaint with the Department of Housing and Urban Development or the Department of Justice, the complaints weren’t officially recorded.
• Some families reported their landlord required excessive documentation of the disability, and the majority of families had to be enrolled in the Exceptional Family Member Program to be considered for an ADA-compliant home. But as the MHAN report noted, the EFMP enrollment is mandatory for the services, but the housing companies are private and not affiliated with DoD enrollment into EFMP. “This is in no way a reliable way to judge if a disability requires a home or accommodation,” the report stated.
In addition, requiring multiple doctors’ notes, command documentation and DoD forms “is a violation of the disabled individuals’ rights,” the report stated.
Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.