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Cheyenne VA offers new medical program for veterans

Wyoming Tribune-Eagle - 1/16/2024

Jan. 16—CHEYENNE — The Cheyenne Veterans Affairs Health Care System is launching a new program to offer a more cost-effective long-term care alternative to veterans currently living in nursing facilities.

The Medical Foster Home (MFH) program was first launched in 1999 in Little Rock, Arkansas, and has now come to Cheyenne.

The program allows members of the community to open their homes to host and care for a veteran. The fee is paid by the veteran to the caregiver and set by the caregiver, usually depending on how much service is required and the cost of living in the area. The national average is $2,500 per month.

MFH Program Coordinator Amy Windschitl said the VA is currently in the recruitment phase, seeking caregivers who are willing to host a veteran in their home. She said caregivers can host up to three veterans in one home.

"We're really looking for people that are passionate about giving back to veterans and that are really wanting to do this for the right reasons," Windschitl said.

Caregivers are expected to be able to provide 24-hour care to the veteran, and usually will have relief workers or family members help relieve that burden. All people living in the home over 16 years old are required to pass a background check, and the home must pass health and safety inspections. Windschitl said they prefer homes with at least some formal or informal caregiving experience.

Any veteran who is enrolled in VA health care may qualify for this program. However, they must have similar needs to those living in a nursing home who are not able to live independently. There are no service-connected requirements to qualify, meaning an injury or illness was caused or worsened due to active military service. However, the VA will likely cover the full cost of the program for those who are highly service-connected.

Lower-income veterans may qualify for the VA Aid & Attendance Benefit, which will help subsidize the costs of the program.

Every veteran enrolled in this program is also enrolled in the home-based primary care program. This means they will have services available to them such as a medical provider, nurse, social worker, psychologist, chaplain, physical therapist and occupational therapist that visits them in the home.

Windschitl said the range of veterans in the program is wide, from those with chronic mental illnesses who need help with meals and medication management to those who are bed-bound and may need assistance with simple things like moving from a bed to a chair.

Before working on launching this program in Cheyenne, as well as Loveland and Sterling, Colorado, she said she saw how impactful it was where she worked in Iowa.

"There was one veteran who had been living in the home for 10 years," she said. "So, he'd been there for quite some time. He said he had been drinking alcohol beforehand and had a problem with it, he was unable to manage his diabetes, he was having so many different issues. He talked about how much his caregiver has saved his life."

Windschitl said the veteran goes on family vacations with the caregivers to visit their daughter's home in Minnesota, and they have a room for him at her place, as well, and he wears the University of Minnesota merchandise.

"It's just cool, because you really just become a part of the family," Windschitl said.

Currently, there are no caregivers signed up in Cheyenne, but Windschitl said she hopes to have one or two up and running by the end of the year. There are also existing programs in communities like Denver, where there are currently five homes that veterans seeking an immediate MFH may look to if they are willing to relocate.

"We're hoping to get homes in people's home area so that they can stay local in their community, though," she said.

The Max Cleland VA Medical Center Act requires all VA medical centers across the country implement this kind of program by the end of fiscal year 25. There are currently over 800 veterans living in more than 500 MFHs nationwide.

Windschitl said those looking to enroll in the program either as a veteran or a caregiver should connect with her and can find her contact information on the VA Cheyenne health care website.

Noah Zahn is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle's local government/business reporter. He can be reached at 307-633-3128 or nzahn@wyomingnews.com. Follow him on X @NoahZahnn.

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