Bill stirs up turf war over adaptive equipment

Friday, June 10, 2016

WASHINGTON – A bill in the House of Representatives with a commendable goal—creating standards for the provision of automobile adaptive equipment for veterans—has divided the manufacturers and providers in that market.

Most recently, the Independent Auto Lift Dealers of America, an informal group of manufacturers and providers led by Harmar, sent a letter to the Committee of Veterans Affairs in the Senate, where a similar bill is being considered, suggesting changes to the bill. Chief among them: better differentiation between simple and complex modifications to ensure that exterior lifts that don’t affect the operation of or alter the structure of the vehicle may continue to be installed at home.

“We have, at current count, 223 dealers that believe their business model would be marginalized,” said Drew McCartney, CEO of Harmar. “We want to preserve the ability of veterans to get an install at a place of their choosing.”

At the crux of the Independent Auto Lift Dealers of America’s concern: Until recently, the National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association, which has spearheaded the bills and whose members primarily provide more complex vehicle modifications, required onsite installations as part of its Quality Assurance Program certification (It added a remote service and installation policy about two years ago).

NMEDA CEO Dave Hubbard says the most recent version of the bill acknowledges what has become known as “driveway installs.” It includes an amendment that states: “…the allowance, where technically appropriate, for veterans to receive modifications at their residence or location of choice.”

“We’ve had people say that this will make driveway installs go away, but that’s not the case,” he said. “It’s mentioned in the bill as a positive, where appropriate.”

Another change suggested by the Independent Auto Lift Dealers of America: language that would prevent NMEDA and its QAP from becoming the de-facto certification for the VA’s automobile adaptive equipment program, a strategy the association has used successfully in some states, McCartney says.

“There are other certifying entities without a dog in the fight, like ANSI and RESNA,” he said.

NMEDA disagrees with the Independent Auto Lift Dealers of America’s interpretation of the bill, saying it leaves the details of the development of a comprehensive policy regarding quality standards up to the secretary of Veterans Affairs.

“The legislation was put together in generalist terms and calls for bringing together all stakeholders,” Hubbard said. “We just want the VA to do something.

Hubbard added: “To deliver a bottle of oxygen, you have to be JCAHO certified but to install a $30,000 high-tech drive-by-wire system that allows quads to drive, you don’t have to be. That’s really what started this.”

The Independent Auto Lift Dealers of America argues that driveway installs are not only convenient but also safe. Harmar, which is actually a manufacturer member of NMEDA, requires dealers to complete a one-week certification course and has a database of 50,000 successful installs for vets, McCartney says.

“This bill is a solution in search of a problem,” he said.

As the bill works its way through the House, with aggressive lobbying from both groups, veterans must be kept as the No. 1 priority, says Jerry Keiderling, president of Accessible Home Improvement of America, part of The VGM Group, which shared news of the letter from the Independent Auto Lift Dealers of America with its members.

“God knows, no one wants to do anything against the vets,” he said. “We’re for certifying standards, but two different modalities are mixed together in this bill. It’s not really a battle, but more, let’s be logical about this.”