Elderly Veterans and Veterans who require around the clock care have numerous options available to them through the Department of Veterans Affairs (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.
For Veterans and older Americans in general, many want to remain at home as they age and their care needs increase. The VA Medical Foster Home provides an option to receive personalized care in the comfort of a home setting. The VA provides home medical care through their Home Based Primary Care (HBPC) team, which includes a medical provider, nurse, social worker, dietitian, rehabilitation and recreation therapist, as well as a mental health provider. The Veteran utilizes their VA benefits to cover the costs of care in the MFH, which includes everything from meals to personal care to socialization. However, it is so much more than that. Since the MFH Caregiver must reside in the home, the Veteran becomes part of the family. Many Veterans go on outings, family gatherings, trips and vacations with their MFH families. They share in the celebrations.
Mr. Sawyer* is a Vietnam Veteran that chose to receive care at a MFH. When he returned from Vietnam, Mr. Sawyer suffered from PTSD, schizophrenia, and substance abuse. Most of his adult life he spent on the street or in jail, having multiple arrests for burglary and petty theft trying to get enough money to just survive. He was malnourished, isolated, and afraid. During his last trip to the County Jail he met with the VA Justice Outreach Social Worker who gave him another option, a chance for a new life.
Mr. Sawyer was provided with a four-poster bed in a warm Medical Foster Home (MFH). The medical team helped him access his VA benefits, pensions and other entitlements. They followed his medical conditions and ensured he was fed good home cooked meals, provided the right medications daily, socialized with other Veterans, and treated with dignity and compassion. Mr. Sawyer became a contributing member of society. He never went back to jail. He gained 40 pounds and smiled every day. As he neared the end of his life, he chose to die under Hospice care in his new home – his MFH – with his caregiver.
Ethel Gordon is one such caregiver. Originally from Trinidad, she grew up with a family who provided care to homeless in her own country. After a career in Mental and Behavioral Health and raising her children, she wanted to be able to work from home. After learning of the VA Medical Foster Home program, Ethel decided to bring 3 Veterans into her home and family. All have their own individual stories which include some mental health history.
“We all went to Florida together for vacation,” Ethel told me. “We go to church every Sunday. I was able to give them stability. There is always something going on.”
Her family is also involved, with her college-age children coming home on breaks and bringing home friends. “The Veterans all feel like they are back in college again,” Ethel shared. She says the joy it brings to her is much more than what she ever expected.
VA Medical Foster Home is the environment where our Heroes meet the Angels willing to open their individual homes to provide an alternative to institutional care. We salute them.
The MFH program began as a successful pilot at the Little Rock VA Medical Center in 1999 and has grown to include programs in 45 states and Puerto Rico. More than 3,500 Veterans have received care in a MFH since the inception.
Dayna Cooper, RN, MSN
Director, Home and Community Care
Geriatrics and Extended Care Operations
US Department of Veterans Affairs
*name changed to protect identity