VA Starts Foster Care for Vets to Be Placed in Family Homes

For senior veterans who can’t live without assistance, options have traditionally been limited to nursing homes or, if they’re fortunate enough to have family who can help them, living with a family member. Otherwise, it’s institutional living, which seniors tend to avoid for as long as possible. To provide a living situation similar to that of a family environment, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs administers its Medical Foster Home Care program. Like its name suggests, the program works like a foster home for senior veterans, as caregivers open their homes and allow one or more senior veterans to live with them.

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According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, senior veterans must be enrolled in the department’s home-based primary care service and have needs that can't be fulfilled if they live at home. Senior veterans are responsible for the costs of the care, which they must pay for either out of pocket or through their insurance. The cost ranges from $1,600 to $3,000 per month, and it’s based on the veteran’s income and the level of care the veteran requires. Veterans agree to the exact amount with the caregiver.

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The people who take these veterans in don’t have to be nurses, but they do have to be trained caregivers. Since there must be a caregiver on duty 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, it becomes a full time job for the caregiver, who also needs to have a backup ready when necessary. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs performs unscheduled inspections of these homes and may make improvements, both of which caregivers must agree to before taking in a veteran.

Of course, a program like this isn’t for everyone. Not every senior veteran wants to live with a stranger, and most people are private about their homes. In addition, it requires a full commitment from the caregiver, as it doesn’t leave time for any other job.

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USA Today finds that the program is an excellent nursing home alternative for senior veterans who don’t do well in group settings and may otherwise end up homeless. While a caregiver can be anyone who meets the requirements and wants to help, those who open their homes typically do so for the sense of purpose it provides and for the opportunity to make a veteran’s life better. Considering the amount of work required, it’s not a good fit for someone who is just “in it for the paycheck,” according to Mary Anderson.

Mary is a retired nurse who signed up for the program in 2009, shortly after she became a widow. She makes salads for Vietnam War veteran Ronny Pennington, keeping him on a healthy diet because of his high blood pressure and heart problems. Ronny isn’t just a patient of hers, though, he’s part of the family. He has been with her for years, and he likes to play guitar with her son.

Caregivers can have up to three veterans living with them. It’s not always easy, as caregiver Julius Anderson knows. He has two veterans living with him, both of whom have dementia, which leads to the occasional argument. However, Julius reports that they're doing OK, and he even takes both veterans to visit his family for Thanksgiving.

The son of one of those veterans, Roque Riojas, can attest to the difference between nursing home and foster home care. Roque Jr. says that he finds the foster home environment “a whole lot better” than the nursing home where he used to visit his mother. He has also seen the significant improvement in how his father is doing after entering the foster care system.

Senior veterans deserve housing and health care without having to struggle for it. Fight for them by signing this petition for more focus on senior veteran care.

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