October 10, 2002 Thursday
Jason McNeil Special to the Roanoke Times
Roanoke Times & World News
In July 1946, Petty Officer 3rd Class William Guerrant came home from serving his country aboard the USS Yavapai in World War II.
In November 2001, Guerrant came home again, this time from a veterans hospital where experts had predicted he would have to spend the rest of his life, a victim of late-stage multiple sclerosis.
Although the circumstances of his second homecoming were drastically different from the first, Guerrant's return from long-term VA hospital care was no less emotional than his return from the war-torn Pacific.
"Nurses, doctors and pretty much everybody told us there was no way we could ever bring William home," said Irene Guerrant, his wife of 48 years. "I would go to the hospital every day to be with him, and I would do it again if I had to, but it really starts to wear you down, all the driving back and forth and spending all day around white coats and sick people." As Irene Guerrant spoke, her husband's eyes moistened with silent tears. "It's been such a blessing to have him home with us again," she added.
A big part of that blessing was the result of a little-known Department of Veterans Affairs grant program known as a Specially Adapted Housing grant. The grant was created to help eligible, severely disabled veterans acquire wheelchair-accessible housing, said Sandra Goudie, special housing agent of the Department of Veterans Affairs Regional Loan Center in Roanoke.
The program offers veterans who have service-related loss of mobility a one-time grant of up to $48,000 ($9,250 for service-related blindness) to modify their own home or help build a new home that will accommodate the special needs of their disability, improve their quality of life, and help avoid and even prevent the need for long-term hospital care.
"These men and women paid a very high price in the service of their country," Goudie said. "While we can never fully repay their sacrifices, the Specially Adapted Housing grants are one way that we can show our appreciation for all they've done."
In the case of Guerrant - whose late-stage MS, deemed a service-related illness, has robbed him of most fine and gross muscle control - the VA grant was used to make a number of low- and high-tech improvements to his home, as well as build an additional room to house his adjustable bed and medical equipment.
Initially a bit shy, Irene Guerrant became excited as she led the grand tour through the small addition to the home she and her husband share, pointing out the nonskid flooring and the newly installed, sliding ceiling track that enables her to take her husband to the shower without clunking his wheelchair awkwardly about the bathroom.
Ceiling track and bathroom aside, other modifications to the house include widened door frames and ramps at all the home's exits, allowing no less than three wheelchair-accessible routes of escape in case of fire or other emergency. A television is mounted on the wall, hospital-style, allowing William Guerrant to watch programs from his adjustable bed.
"It's amazing how making a few, one-time modifications to someone's home can make such a huge difference in their lives," Goudie said. In addition to improving quality of life, the Specially Adapted Housing program benefits both the government and the veterans and their families, she said.
"When you weigh that several thousand dollars against the cost of keeping someone in a government-funded VA hospital for months or even years on end, it just makes good financial sense."
Although William Guerrant's ability to talk comes and goes because of his condition, his wife tells heartwarming stories of days gone by and the many years she and her husband have spent together. She relates how a friend introduced them at a party, where she "thought he was just the handsomest man there" and how her husband never let his condition prevent him from working and earning an honest living.
Conversation continually returns to the topic of William Guerrant's second homecoming last November, when he came home again after everyone said it couldn't be managed. Indeed, the reason the Guerrants were eager to share their story, despite a distinct aversion to the spotlight, was so that others could find out about the Specially Adapted Housing program.
"When I married William, I said I was in this for better or for worse, and I meant it," Irene Guerrant said. "We've been through the better, and we've been through some of the worse. But with the VA grant to fix the house so William can be at home . . ." She paused a moment and smiled, squeezing her husband's hand. "Well, that makes it a whole lot better."
Information about the Department of Veterans Affairs Specially Adapted
Housing Program may be obtained by contacting the VA Regional Loan Center
in Roanoke at (800) 933-5499, and asking for the Special Housing Agent,
or online at vba-roanoke.com (VA Form 26-4555.)
© Copyright 2002 Roanoke Times & World News