About a year ago here on the AgingOptions blog, we told readers about a small program, started in Little Rock, Arkansas, that is now providing care to about 1,000 veterans, at a fraction of the cost of nursing care. Besides saving the Department of Veterans Affairs millions in care costs annually, this initiative, called the Medical Foster Home program, provides loving care in a homelike environment to vets who are medically unable to live on their own.
Foster Care for Vets: A Small Program with a Big Impact
This article that was published last year in the Washington Post is titled “VA turns to foster care for veterans instead of putting them in nursing homes,” and it provides a heartwarming glimpse into a program that seems like a perfect nursing home alternative for vets who qualify. The problem is that those who operate these foster homes have to meet a stringent set of qualifications which may tend to discourage some well-meaning folks who would love to house a few deserving veterans. The program takes up a tiny portion of the VA’s annual budget, less than $21 million per year, and it presently serves about 1,000 veterans in 42 states and Puerto Rico, providing a substitute for nursing home care to those who cannot live safely on their own. In the words of the Washington Post article, the program “has been difficult to scale up, because VA accepts only foster homes that meet strict qualifications.”
At present the Medical Foster Home program has about 700 licensed caregivers. These men and women “live full time with no more than three veterans and provide round-the-clock supervision and care, according to VA,” the Post article explains. Like a community residential care facility, “each foster home must be state-licensed as an assisted-living facility and submit to frequent inspections by VA as well as state inspectors, nutritionists, pharmacists and nurses.” On top of that, medical foster home providers must pass a federal background check and undergo rigorous training – an initial 80 hours plus 20 hours of additional training each year – and they must maintain certification in first aid, CPR and medicine administration. The VA has to be allowed to make both announced and unannounced home visits. Oh, and there’s one more qualification: caregiving has to be their full-time occupation. VA-approved foster home caregivers cannot work outside the home. They must live on-site and tend to the needs of their patients themselves around the clock, or supply relief staff who can.
Foster Care for Vets: The Veteran Pays for Care, with VA Assistance
Who pays for this level of care? Technically, it’s the veterans themselves, but most of them cover the cost with their VA benefits. “Because medical foster homes are not considered institutional care,” the Washington Post reports, “VA is not allowed to pay for it directly,” although several lawmakers from both parties have introduced legislation in recent years to get this restriction lifted. According to VA statistics, the average residential fee is $2,300, which (the article says) most veterans manage with their VA compensation, Social Security and savings. Depending on location, the charges paid by the veterans range between $1,500 and $3,000 a month, compared with up to $10,000 a month in nursing home care.
To be considered for the program, veterans must be enrolled in VA health care; have a serious, chronic disabling medical condition that requires a nursing home level of care; and require both care coordination and access to VA services. It can take up to a month to place a veteran in a home once they are found eligible, according to VA. (Here’s a link to a VA website describing the Medical Foster Home program in greater detail.)
Foster Care for Vets is “Like Family”
But the real benefit of the program goes far beyond cost-savings. “For the veterans,” writes the Washington Post, “it’s a chance to live in a home setting with caregivers who treat them like family.” The Post article spotlights one particular home in Baltimore where two aging vets live in comfort and security. “Foster care has been a blessing” for the family of one man who had suffered a stroke and could no longer care for himself. His daughter lives nearby and is able to visit frequently, bringing along her 2-year-old son. The other veteran was homeless a decade ago, suffering from uncontrolled diabetes. Now he has a secure home and regular VA-provided medical care. “There is no place that I’d rather be,” he told the Washington Post. “I love the quiet of living here, the help we get. I thank the Lord every year that I am here.”
Housing is Just Part of the Retirement Planning Picture
Here at AgingOptions, we feel as you do that our veterans deserve the very best care we can provide them – something they often fail to receive. If you are a veteran or are caregiver for an aging vet, our professional staff can answer many of your VA-related questions concerning long-term care and other benefits. But no matter if you’re a veteran or not, you need to be looking ahead and planning for your own retirement, whether it’s years off or just around the corner. Will you be able to preserve your assets as you age? Can you avoid becoming a burden to your loved ones, or perhaps being forced against your desires into unplanned institutional care? Retirement should be a time of security and new beginnings – and it can be, when you make an AgingOptions LifePlan your blueprint. Unlike conventional, one-dimensional retirement planning, a LifePlan weaves together all five of the most important facets of retirement living: your finances, your legal protection, your medical coverage (both for the short-term and long-term), your best housing options, and your communication plan with those closest to you. A LifePlan is the very definition of comprehensive retirement planning.
We invite you find out more by joining Rajiv Nagaich at an AgingOptions LifePlanning Seminar. These information-packed free events are scheduled throughout the region, so for a current listing of dates, times and locations, visit our Live Events page – then register online for the seminar of your choice or call us during the week. It will be our pleasure to introduce you to the unique power of a LifePlan from AgingOptions. Age on!
(originally reported at www.washingtonpost.com)