Foster Families for Veterans Keep America's Heroes in the Homes They Deserve
"We look for people who have a strong heart and a willingness to provide care. It's a 24/7 job."
With nearly 38,000 homeless veterans and more than 82,000 in nursing homes, a growing number of ordinary families are opening their doors to America's heroes through the VA's Medical Foster Home program.
An alternative to nursing homes for selected veterans who are no longer able to live independently, the foster program allows vets to live in private homes for about half as much as costly nursing home care.
The program, which launched in 2008, is currently available in 43 states with a little over 700 caregivers housing about 1,000 veterans nationally.
Dayna Cooper, MSN, RN, Director of Home and Community Care in the Office Geriatrics and Extended Care for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, said they're hoping to get it everywhere.
The need for foster homes varies from state to state, but demand is highest in rural areas, explains Cooper. This is because most vets want to stay where they live. Program facilitators try to find homes that allow vets to stay in the communities they know and love—a dignity they certainly deserve.
So far, the results have been excellent. In fact, the program has one of the highest rates of satisfaction in the VA.
"We see vets who have been in a home who have been depressed and come out of it and thrive," says Cooper, adding that they've found that vets with dementia or traumatic brain injuries benefit most from living in a home with a family. "Conditions that could cause them to find a nursing home environment too stimulating. Patients who didn't do well in an institution have their quality of life improved."
And it's not just the veterans who benefit.
"Many of our caregivers and vets become family," Cooper notes. "They take them on vacation. We recently spoke to a family that takes their veteran—a quadriplegic—camping twice a year. These are opportunities they never would have had."
WATCH: Texas WWII Vet Who Asked for 100 Birthday Cards for His 100th Birthday Receives 100,000
Those interested in becoming a veteran caregiver should contact their local VA. No medical background is required.
Caregivers are required to attend training twice a year to learn about basic caregiving, medication, CPR, and First Aid. They also receive individualized training tailored to the needs of their vets in their care. The VA sends healthcare professionals to provide the majority of daily medical care, but caregivers are expected to handle the everyday basics as well as emergencies should they arise.
"We look for people who have a strong heart and a willingness to provide care," Cooper explains. "It's a 24/7 job."
There's a reason the program's tagline is "Where our heroes meet angels."
"These people really are angels," Cooper says. "They're doing such amazing things. Every vet deserves the right to live in a home and remain where they thrive."