Wanted: Foster homes for veterans
Thomaston — There are innumerable veterans who are without family and do not want to be moved to an assisted living facility or a nursing home.
Some prefer to stay at home even if conditions are less than desirable.
A third alternative has recently been added — living with a family in the community — a Medical Foster Home. Veterans Affairs began this pilot program in Little Rock, Ark. and due to the resounding success as a long-term care option for veterans of all ages, the VA is seeking more such homes.
Qualified families offer veterans room, board and personal care. The interdisciplinary home care team from the VA supports the caregivers by providing supervision and medical home care services. In return the veteran personally pays the caregiver a monthly fee depending on the care needs, the location and the individual situation.
One such home is located in Thomaston and managed by Kelly Carr. Carr has run a private care home since 2008, and joined forces with the VA program in April.
"People are waiting to get into these types of homes," said Carr, who is allowed two veterans in her home.
Carr said the abilities and disabilities of the veterans runs the gamut. She also said most of them never inquired about receiving their rightful benefits.
"It's a great program," said Carr. "Everybody is wonderful."
The VA handles the veterans and the caregivers anonymously and does not give out any information regarding the veterans, she said.
"The client visits the home to see if it will be a good fit for them," said Carr. "They pick where they want to live."
Carr said the two clients she has had very different likes when they first moved in. One liked the Red Sox and other did not.
"Now they cheer for the same teams," she said.
The medical foster homes are visited once a month unannounced by medical foster home coordinators from the VA, similar to a regular foster home. Morgan Delattre and Terry Melanson are the area coordinators. Delattre, from Portland, has been in this capacity for one and a half years, while Melanson, from Augusta, has been with the program for six years.
The area medical foster homes also have a recreational therapist who provides activities to promote and maintain both physical and cognitive functions.
Dale Pitre of the VA facility at Togus works with the veterans to identify recreational goals that are attainable.
"I work one-on-one with the vets doing activities that are of interest to them," said Pitre. "I also organize group activities, community reintegration, sensory integration, therapeutic exercise, and the like."
"The most important thing is that our veterans are able to enjoy their senior years happy and healthy while enjoying leisure activities," said Pitre, who organized a recent picnic at Damariscotta State Park Aug. 12.
The Maine program started in the Augusta area and recently expanded to the Portland area. There are 16 such homes in the Midcoast including Carr's, and ones in Warren and Rockport.
"We are looking for more homes," said Melanson. "We do not want to have a wait list." Currently they receive approximately five to eight referrals a month.
To qualify to become a medical foster home, the families must pass an inspection by the social workers. Safety is the most important aspect, said Melanson. The family also needs to provide proof of financial stability.
"We are looking for people who have the right heart for this," said Melanson, "ones that will let these veterans become a part of their families."
This program, although not new, needs more publicity, according to Delattre and Melanson.
"It is a diversion from nursing homes," said Delattre. "Otherwise they would all be in a nursing home with taxpayers paying for their care."
Delattre said the VA is finding more and more veterans — especially Vietnam vets — who are living in less than favorable circumstances because they chose not to seek their benefits.
"We are trying to get the word out that they are due these benefits," said Delattre.
"This program has proven to be so successful," said Melanson. "I have had many of them pass away in the homes they chose to live in ... that is a blessing to them," she said.
Anyone interested in becoming a medical foster care home should contact the Togus VA Medical Center at 623-8411.
Courier Publications reporter Beth A. Birmingham can be reached at 594-4401 ext. 125 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.