Elderly Veterans and Veterans who require around the clock care have numerous options available to them through VA. Annually, thousands of Veterans turn to VA for care, whether it in a community residential care center, adult family home, community living center or a community nursing home partner.
Most Veterans do not want to go in to an institution for their aging care, so VA has been working to expand its medical foster home program that allows caregivers to care for Veterans in their own home. It's a win-win situation for both VA and the Veterans that chose the option, as they are able to receive personalized care in a home setting and it is less expensive than institutionalized care.
"Veterans love this program because it gives them an opportunity to be apart of a loving family," said Beau Williams, the Medical Foster Home Program coordinator for the Tampa, Florida, VA Medical Center.
Beau is charged with not only marketing the program and placing the Veterans in these loving homes, but also interviewing and approving the caregivers.
"I look for caregivers with not only the qualifications required, but most importantly that they have a good heart," Williams said.
Many caregivers are already medically trained and VA provides classes and specialized training such as spinal cord injury care for their live-in patients. VA then sends home-based care specialists to the Veterans on a weekly basis for any additional assistance they require.
Caregiver Tammy Norton moved to Florida to care for her father through the VA Medical Foster Home Program. She also took in two additional Veterans, Clayton and Nat. Her father recently passed away, but she continues to care for her "new family," as she put it.
The Veterans use their VA benefits to pay Tammy for the home based care, which includes everything from meals to bathing, but it's so much more than that. The three go on outings together, attend church, even vacation together. They are a family.
Depending on the level of care required, some Veterans do miss the opportunities to socialize with others outside of their home that they may receive in a nursing home. VA organizes regular foster care socials where all foster home Veterans and their caregivers are invited to spend time together.
These ‘Vet-togethers' are loved by not only the Veterans, but also the caregivers as it gives them a chance to learn from each other's experience.
Make a Difference Day
Even though most of the Veterans in the foster home program are somewhat limited to their home, they are still involved with their community.
The Tampa VAMC Voluntary Services team saw the benefit of bringing community partners and the foster home Veterans together and organized the event in conjunction with Make a Difference Day.
Make a Difference Day is a national service day where volunteers look for opportunities to enrich the lives of others. The Hillsborough Bar Association has supplied and distributed the Veteran gift bags for the past four years.
"My father is Veteran so this is very near and dear to my heart. It's amazing to see the love in those homes, so wonderful to give them a little bit a joy in their day," said Kathy Gilbert of the Hillsborough Bar Association who has participated in this event for three years.
While many volunteers spend days gathering and creating the gift bags and strive to fulfill the Veteran's wish lists, the most rewarding part are the home visits. The Veterans and foster care providers open their doors with wide eyes and giant smiles. They visit, laugh and enjoy the company of their new friends and visitors.
Clayton and Nat both showed off their rooms with pride, pointing to picture after picture. Nat has a picture of the iconic Mount Suribachi flag raising on Iwo Jima to honor his grandson who is in the U.S. Marine Corps. He also shared his experience flying over the island on his way to Japan.
"You'll find the Veterans greatly appreciate the support. I've heard them say that it is their home; it gives them an opportunity to be apart of a loving family," said Tampa's Beau Williams. "They are very happy with that."
To learn more about the VA's Medical Foster Home Program visit http://www.va.gov/geriatrics/guide/longtermcare/medical_foster_homes.asp#