When Ed (not his real name) returned from Vietnam, he was a broken man, literally. He had broken almost every bone in his body with a traumatic brain injury as well. He suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. After a few years, he was no longer able to live on his own. He was moved into a care center in his state.
"When he was in the care center, he would very rarely eat, speak, socialize, get out of bed, and bathe. He used a wheelchair and appeared very lonely, lost and sad," his current recreational therapist stated.
Then Ed was introduced to a new program at his local VA center. The program, called the Medical Foster Home Program, helps veterans who no longer can live safely on their own into community caregiver's homes. The program has been in existence since 2000 and has grown to serve most states in the United States.
The Medical Foster Home Program is made up of four components: the program coordinator and the program support assistant; the Home Based Primary Care team; the caregivers, their families and back-up caregivers; and the veterans.
The Medical Foster Home Program coordinator and the program support assistant search for caregivers (who have safe homes that have passed many assessments), and caregiver back-up workers (who must pass rigorous assessments, interviews and record reviews). The coordinator and support assistant also search for veterans who meet the specified criteria and are good fit for the caregivers.
Another component of the MFHP program is the Home Based Primary Care team. The team includes a primary care provider which may include a doctor, nurse practitioners, physician assistant, psychologist, registered nurse, physical therapist, occupational therapist, licensed clinical social worker and a registered dietician. The MFHP also provides a recreation therapist. The HBPC team provides all primary care for the veteran whom is living in a Medical Foster Home. Specialty medical care continues to take place in the medical center. The HBPC team educates the caregiver and provides care and support for the veteran and the caregiver. There are also several other organizations that also provide support for the caregiver.
The caregivers supervise the veterans 24 hours every day. They supply meals, make sure the veteran is safe and takes his/her medications, take the veteran to specialty medical appointments and other various activities. Caregivers are carefully and thoroughly assessed and trained. "The qualities we look for in caregivers are compassion, kindness, caring and responsibility," explained White River Junction VA program coordinator Jim Pierce. The main concern is safety for the veterans and the caregivers and their families. Caregivers can provide services for one to three veterans at one time depending on which state they reside. In New Hampshire and Massachusetts the number is three. In Vermont there can be two persons whom receive care and in New York one needs to be licensed to provide care services.
Caregivers' homes must be located within an hour's drive of a Home Based Primary Care team. Currently, there are HBPC teams in Brattleboro, Bennington, Burlington, White River Junction and Rutland, Vt., and Littleton. Some of the qualifications for the caregivers are that the caregivers are 21 years of age or older, own or rent their own home, they must complete trainings in caregiving, and complete the application process. The home must pass federal, state and local standards.
The veteran also must complete an in-home admission screen with the HBPC team and the program coordinator. When a veteran is admitted to the program, the caregivers, their families and the veteran meet for at least several hours and determine if they feel they can live well together. The veterans pay the caregiver(s) each month for their care. The fees can be between $1,800 and $4,000 a month, depending on the level of care the Veteran needs. "Most veterans pay between $2,500 and $3,000 a month," stated the program coordinator. Veterans use their VA pensions, benefits, Social Security income, family resources and other monetary sources in order to afford the MFH program.
Ed has lived in a Medical Foster Home for over a year now. Since that time, "He has greatly improved physically and mentally. He gained weight, no longer uses a wheelchair, socializes daily, and says his quality of life is great. He states that he looks forward to every visit from the recreational therapist who takes him to museums, the movies, swimming and to his favorite activity — woodworking. Ed is not the only veteran that has improved life in many areas. According to the National Medical Foster Home organization, many vets improve in the areas of physical, mental and/or emotional health.
As one caregiver said, "These veterans have risked their lives and health for our country, they deserve the best care that everyone can provide. I didn't know how rewarding this could be for me and (the vet). I've found my passion and my purpose. I will be doing this for the rest of my life." This sentiment has been expressed several times by many of the caregivers.
If you are interested in learning more about the program, whether you're a veteran, possible caregiver, family member or community member, contact Jim Pierce at the White River Junction V.A. at (802) 295-9363 ext. 5337 or Jessica Hopwood at (802) 295-9363 ext. 6133. The toll free number is (866) OUR-VETS (687-8387). The extensions are the same if one uses the toll free number.