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From wheelchair ramps to a new roof, program helps keep disabled veterans living independently

By MELISSA HANSON | MassLive.com | Published: January 14, 2020

WORCESTER, Mass. (Tribune News Service) — When Daniel Fuentes visited a local veteran, the front room of the man’s house was about 40 degrees.

The room has a chimney, but purchasing and chopping wood has been too much of a physical and financial burden for the veteran and his family.

Thanks to a grant-funded program out of Veterans Inc. to assist low-income and disabled veterans, Fuentes is going to help this veteran and his family keep their home warm with the installation of a pellet stove.

“The last thing a veteran wants to do after making proper choices in their life, being a homeowner, being in their community, is have to turn around and not be able to live the life they want to live in their home due to a disability or due to a financial hardship,” Fuentes said. “Once we’re able to change that, add some positivity to their lifestyle, allow them to move more independently, it’ll have a severe impact on their day-to-day life.”

Veterans Inc., the largest provider of support services to veterans and their families in New England, is the recipient of a $1 million grant to be distributed over three years as a part of the Veterans Housing, Rehabilitation and Modification pilot program out of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. At Veterans Inc., they’re calling it the home repairs program.

The pellet stove project will be the first in the program, with a goal of helping more than 60 veterans in three years.

Veterans Inc. received the grant last summer, and Fuentes has been building up the program. Other agencies that have received the grant run loan programs. Veterans Inc. is running the program at no cost to the veterans who will benefit from it, said Fuentes, who served in the Army from 2009 to 2013, including a tour in Iraq, and has been with Veterans Inc. for more than three years.

“They gave a lot and sacrificed a lot, mind, body and soul for this country, so we want to give some of that back,” said Fuentes, a 29-year-old Worcester resident.

Fuentes said the program will help about 20 veterans each year with a mix of home repairs, accessibility modifications and energy-efficient upgrades. Fuentes will find local contractors to install wheelchair ramps, lower countertops, add electrical outlets or widen doorframes to increase accessibility.

“The rehab portion is for homes that might be in despair and the veterans, because they’re low-income and disabled, they don’t have the physical or financial capabilities to be able to repair their leaking roof or replace their furnace that’s costing them so much,” Fuentes said. “I could be doing a roof, a wheelchair ramp, or replacing a stove or anything in between. It encompasses a lot. It’s all based on the need of the veteran.”

Energy efficient upgrades could include appliances and boilers.

“The last thing you want is due to financial burdens is for a veteran have to leave their home that they’ve owned for quite some time,” Fuentes said. “The goal is to allow them to continue to live in their home independently and continue to be a factor in their communities."

When a client applies, Fuentes makes sure the veteran meets the proper eligibility: that the person is a low-income and disabled veteran. Then, Fuentes has to make sure that the project will help allow the veteran live more independently and is not a pet project that was previously forgotten.

Fuentes will do an in-home assessment to see what fixes a veteran needs and move forward with approval. Fuentes then has to do a historical check with the state historical society and complete an environmental review through the HUD system. When that’s complete, Fuentes can get submit a voucher for funding after getting three quotes.

Fuentes said they’ve had a steady flow of applications coming in but Veterans Inc. is continuing to look for veterans to apply for services.

“I can’t wait to get started. Once we put the first hammer to a nail, or whatever the case is, I’m sure from there it will start to accelerate itself once we can get that out there and show the proof of the work we’re doing,” Fuentes said.

Veterans can apply for the program in-person at Veterans Inc. at 69 Grove St. in Worcester or online. Applications can be dropped off, emailed, mailed or, Fuentes said he’s even willing to go pick up an application in-person if a veteran needs the help.

While Fuentes said right now the program is focusing on Greater Worcester, the grant covers all of New England.

“If I’ve got to go to Skowhegan, Maine, to help a veteran get a wheelchair ramp or something, we’re gonna do it,” Fuentes said.

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