Sharing homes, lives with vets

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Dahna M. Chandler

A Veterans Affairs program helps vets with disabilities find foster caregivers who will house and care for them at a reasonable cost. The program has recently expanded to the Baltimore area, which was a help for Richard Meleski, whose wife is no longer able to care for him herself. Homeowner/caregivers are also being sought for the program.
Photo courtesy of the Veterans Administration

Like other aging adults with disabilities, Maryland’s military veterans — whether or not their disabilities were acquired in service — often require specialized, round-the-clock, long-term care. In many cases, they receive this care in institutional settings like nursing homes and hospitals. That is especially true of those requiring care for dementia, strokes and other major health challenges.

But for veterans who are eligible, there is an alternative. The Veteran’s Administration Medical Foster Home program makes it possible for veterans across the nation to get care in a private home.

“Veterans are carefully matched with rigorously qualified private caregivers who have opened their homes specifically to care for veterans,” said Nicole Trimble, coordinator for Maryland’s Medical Foster Home Program. “Since the formation of the program, 21 Maryland veterans have been placed in five homes between Baltimore and Cecil County.”

The program provides a safe home-like environment with a caregiver, and is an economical long-term care alternative for veterans who are unable to live independently.  The VA began the Medical Foster Home Program in 1999, and it has expanded to 80 areas. The Maryland program began in 2012.

A welcoming new home

One of the veterans benefiting from this innovative program is Peter Samaras, a disabled 61-year-old U.S. Army veteran who served in Thailand from 1972 to 1975. Samaras, formerly a resident of a veteran’s long-term care facility, now lives full-time in the Edgewood home of caregiver Patrice Taylor, along with another veteran.

“I really like it here,” Samaras said. “I get good meals, I get along with the other veteran, and I get treated well.”

Like all vets in the program, he attends adult day care two days weekly, and gets regular field trips provided by Taylor or the program.

Samaras also receives any necessary supplementary care from the VA itself by a Home-Based Primary Care Team whose staff makes regular visits to the home. Each team consists of a nurse practitioner, nurse, social worker, nutritionist, psychologist, pharmacist and kinesiotherapist (who provides exercise therapy and helps get vets adaptive equipment and devices).

“Anytime I or the veterans need anything,” said Taylor, “the VA is right there. I don’t have to wait days to hear from somebody. They respond to me right away and get us whatever we need.

“The VA has really tried to support and wrap services around the caregivers to meet our needs, too. They always have someone to call for assistance.”

Like family

Trimble, in addition to holding a master’s degree in social work and serving as the program’s coordinator since 2012. She began working for the agency in  2004. Her grandfather also worked for the VA.

“All of the men in my life were veterans,” Trimble said. “So I’ve always been drawn to giving back to the men and women who have put their lives on the line for our country.”

Foster home caregiver Taylor — who is a medication-certified CNA (certified nursing assistant) with nine years of caregiving experience, including caring for veterans — feels the same way as Trimble.

“I’ve always been a caregiver, and it’s a special honor to serve those who served our country. It’s my way of giving back to them,” she said.

While many vets are housed with complete families, including kids, and up to two other veterans, Taylor’s household consists only of her and the two vets for whom she provides full-time care.

She gets down time when the vets are in adult day care or on outings with VA staff, but said, “I often take them with me on errands or even vacation,” she said. “They’re like family to me.”

Qualifying for the program

Qualifications for entry into the program are stringent for both caregivers and veterans.

For caregivers, it starts with State of Maryland licensing. “After they are licensed by the state, they contact us and start the application process with our program,” Trimble explained.

It consists of an application, specific documents and references. It includes home visits by a VA nurse as well as a dietitian and a fire safety inspector.

Once the home passes all inspections and provides required documentation, the application is reviewed. Caregivers cannot have full-time jobs, as their job will be to care for the veterans placed in their home.

In some cases, the program cannot approve applications. Reasons may include the home’s structure (it has too many stairs, for example) and location of the home, which must be owned or rented by the caregiver. “We approve homes based on demand for them in an area,” Trimble said.

Caregivers are paid standard monthly room and board, and receive perks like free annual training to maintain their state license.

The veteran application process begins with the veteran or their family contacting their VA social worker or Trimble to learn, first, if there is an available home for the veteran. The vet must be disabled and require full-time care.

“We reach out to homes to see if they’re interested in the applicant, and then schedule a home visit to make sure the veteran is a good fit for the caregiver and will get along with the caregiver and others in the home,” said Trimble.

After a home is identified, the veteran completes the application process to determine if they are income eligible. If their own income doesn’t support the cost of the program — which ranges from $1,800 to $3,500 monthly paid by the veteran directly to the caregiver — they can apply for the “non-service connected pension with aid and attendance” program. 

“They must have served in [the military] and have other income, like a Social Security check or service-related compensation, to cover the complete cost of the program, since that program doesn’t [come with separate funding],” Trimble explained.

If a vet can’t be matched to a provider immediately, Trimble refers them to other community services, and contacts them when there is an opening.

But for those vets who are matched to a caregiver, she said, “This program gives veterans an opportunity to remain in a homelike environment in the community rather than going into an institution. We’re [also] always looking for qualified caregivers, so those interested should reach out to me, too.”

If you’re a veteran or family member interested in the program, talk to your VA social worker or contact Trimble in her office at (410) 642-2411, x 6094 or on her cell phone at (443) 845-6484. Also see www.maryland.va.gov/services/Medical_Foster_Home_Program.asp for more information.

Comments

Interested in giving back

I lost my husband in 2012 to pancreatic cancer he was a retired vet from the Air Force of 22yrs and that was his wish for us to get involved in giving back to our fellow veterans! I will be contacting you . Thank you and look forward to speaking to you!