The VA’s April Bartlett says the program aids veterans who otherwise might have to move into a nursing home or be at risk living alone.
Sometimes the nation's veterans need round-the-clock care.
However, like many people who can no longer live safely on their own, veterans don't want to move into a nursing home if they can avoid it. Fortunately, they have another option: a growing number of medical foster homes -- including one in northwest Toledo -- where they can live and receive 24-hour care.
The program began in 2000 after social workers in Little Rock noticed vets who needed full-time caregivers. It worked so well there that the Veterans Administration in 2004 began pilot programs in Tampa and San Juan, Puerto Rico, according to April Bartlett, coordinator for the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System's medical foster home and alternate caregiver support programs.
Since then it has served nearly 1,500 veterans. Currently, in 36 states, 73 VA medical centers operate 436 medical foster homes that house 535 veterans. Seventeen such homes are available for veterans in Ohio, including the one in Toledo that was recently approved by the VA Ann Arbor medical foster home program; as of last week it had an opening for one veteran.
In addition to the VA Ann Arbor, the medical foster home program operates in Cleveland and Chillicothe, Ohio, and in Michigan at Battle Creek and Detroit. By the end of this year, the goal is for 102 VA medical centers to oversee medical foster homes in 46 states, Ms. Bartlett said. The plan eventually is for every state to have the homes.
The VA seeks caregivers, inspects homes, makes home visits, and provides veterans a professional team that includes pharmacists, physicians, nurses, therapists, and social workers. Veterans in the foster homes have one or a number of chronic medical ailments such as dementia, diabetes, heart disease, post traumatic stress disorder, and depression. A vet might also need long-term or end-of-life care.
"Our goal for caregivers is to look at this as a long-term commitment, for veterans to stay through the end of the life, to age in place," said Ms. Bartlett about male and female veterans who have served in any era. "I really see this as kind of folding them into their flock and becoming part of their family and giving them love, support, and care."
Tami and Dean Brockway, owners of the Toledo medical foster home, see the program as an effort to benefit veterans. Though they already care for a married couple in their home, they believed that signing up to become caregivers in the VA medical foster care program would be a way to show their appreciation.
"When we got the brochure, we were talking about it and thought we would give back to them," said Mrs. Brockway, who enjoys looking after others. The VA home inspection process was easy for her because she has been a foster caregiver for 13 years.
Though she does not have a veteran resident yet, she said she and her husband "felt some sense of commitment for veterans."
Veterans in medical foster homes may have once lived alone and did not have an available caregiver or family member.
"The goal is to meet the need of disabled or aging veterans and who without that care might be in a nursing home or at risk at home alone," Ms. Bartlett said.
The VA will allow a veteran or veterans to move into a home where care is provided only to a maximum of three persons, whether or not the others are vets. The Toledo medical foster home, for instance, can house only one veteran because the caregivers also provide for a married couple who count toward the maximum three persons receiving foster care there.
"It's meant to be a family home environment so that it's more individualized care," Ms. Bartlett said.
Caregivers must be at least 21 years old and live in a house that they own or rent. The house must meet state and local regulations for adult foster care license. A foster care home that houses only veterans does not have to have a state adult foster care license. However, if a mixture of residents receive care, the home must be licensed by the state. The Toledo medical foster home is licensed by the state of Ohio.
"If a new caregiver calls and is interested in only caring for adult veterans, they wouldn't have to go through licensing," she said.
However, the home would still have to be inspected by a VA team, meet licensing needs, and fulfill such guidelines as those established in fire codes. Vets can live in private or semi-private rooms that must be at least 100 square feet or 160 square feet, respectively. Caregivers are required to undergo a federal background check, which the VA provides at no cost. Caregivers also must have people who can provide care for the veterans in their absence.
"We also want them to have some kind of care-giving experience," Ms. Bartlett said of the caregivers, whether by helping a family member or through a job.
Veterans are responsible for paying caregivers for room and board, supervision, assistance with daily care needs, and socialization and recreation. Monthly costs can range from $1,500 to $3,000, depending on the level of care they require.
A bonus for some veterans is the pets in caregivers' homes. In fact, veterans who have pets often don't want to leave their own homes because they can't take the pets with them. The Toledo medical foster home has several pets, including dogs.
Before veterans can move into medical foster homes they must be enrolled in the VA health-care system. To help fund their foster home placement, if they are eligible, Ms. Bartlett said they can seek financial resources from the Veterans Benefits Administration. VA officials help with that process. Vets who have never been enrolled in a VA health-care system can contact the VA to receive an enrollment packet and help to enroll. More information is available at www.annarbor.va.gov/services/medicalfosterhome.asp, or by calling 734-222-4269.
"If veterans or families or potential caregivers are interested, please call," she said. "We are recruiting caregivers."
Contact Rose Russell at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6178.