Enhanced Benefits for Disabled Veterans: The AUTO Act
The Department of Veterans Affairs has programs for disabled veterans that can help these vets offset the costs of special adaptation for motor vehicles. Thanks to bipartisan efforts to enhance these programs, legislation passed in early 2023 offers expanded access to VA funding for these vehicles and/or their adaptations.
VA Special Adaptive Vehicle Grants: the Old Policy
In the past, the VA offered a one-time,single-use automobile grant to those who needed to buy a specially adapted vehicle outright.
The Department of Veterans Affairs had also, in prior years, offered veterans “multiple grants” for purchasing special adaptive equipment as add-ons to existing vehicles. But when it came to buying an already-adapted vehicle, this offer was limited to a single grant for a vehicle purchase.
Under the old program, future purchases were not funded; the veteran had to pay for all subsequent upgrades or replacement vehicles out-of-pocket.
That version of the program is out-of-date as of 2023. The enhanced program replaces the one-time-only option with what some veteran advocates feel is a more realistic alternative, offering multiple grants over a veteran’s lifetime.
Advancing Uniform Transportation Opportunities for Veterans (AUTO) Act
How does the Auto Act enhance VA benefits for disabled veterans? Doing away with the single-use benefit means establishing when and how the veteran can use the benefit a second or even a third time.
Thanks to the Act, disabled veterans may apply for a VA automobile grant from the Department of Veterans Affairs once every ten years. But there is a phase-in period for this enhanced VA benefit.
Those who have used a VA vehicle grant before but have not done so in the past 30 years are eligible for another grant. Those who have not used the grant yet are eligible for one every 10 years after receiving the first one.
Does the AUTO Act Help?
Some sources report that the typical price range to buy or replace a modified can run between $20k and $80k. These vehicles have a lifespan just over a decade long and it is easy to see how these numbers can add up over a lifetime.
The AUTO Act includes a section authorizing the VA to pay for vehicle modifications such as lifts, modified doors, wheelchair modifications, etc. These provisions are crucial for severely disabled veterans to modify vehicles to help them get to medical care, VA appointments, etc.
Who Qualifies for AUTO Act Benefits
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs official site, veterans and currently serving troops may be eligible for VA disability benefits related to the AUTO Act if one of the following is true for you:
- You have loss, or permanent loss of use, of one or both feet;
- You have loss, or permanent loss of use, of one or both hands;
- You have decreased vision in both eyes: 20/200 vision or less “in your better eye with glasses”, or greater than 20/200 vision “but with a visual field defect that has reduced your peripheral vision to 20 degrees or less” in your better eye according to VA.gov
- You have a severe burn;
- You have amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS);
- You have ankylosis in one or both knees or hips; (restrictions may apply).
AUTO Act Benefits
Benefits enhanced under the AUTO Act, according to the VA official site, a payment “to help you buy a specially equipped vehicle” as well as an option for qualifying applicants to receive, “one or more adaptive-equipment grants to change a vehicle so it has features like power steering, brakes, seats, windows, or lift equipment to help you get into and out of the vehicle.”
How to Apply for Benefits Enhanced by the AUTO Act
Veterans and currently serving military members are required to file a VA claim for disability compensation and obtain VA approval prior to the purchase of a vehicle or special adaptive equipment. According to VA.gov you may apply for these benefits “before or after military discharge.”
Applying for a VA Payment to Buy a Specially Adapted Vehicle
- Complete the VA Application for Automobile or Other Conveyance and Adaptive Equipment (VA Form 21-4502).
- The Department of Veterans Affairs pays the seller directly.
Applying for a VA Adaptive-Equipment Grant
- If you are applying for adaptive equipment only, submit the VA Application for Adaptive Equipment—Motor Vehicle (VA Form 10-1394).
The VA may pay the seller directly or compensate the applicant, depending on the circumstances.
About the author
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter/editor for Air Force Television News and the Pentagon Channel. His freelance work includes contract work for Motorola, VALoans.com, and Credit Karma. He is co-founder of Dim Art House in Springfield, Illinois, and spends his non-writing time as an abstract painter, independent publisher, and occasional filmmaker.