Program pairs veterans with private caregiversWritten by Danielle Stanton | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Marty Lipka landed in North Africa as a member of the Army 10th Mountain Division in World War II. A year later, he took an English boat to Italy and fought through to Austria.
For many years after the war, Lipka, 97, worked in the Sears & Roebuck Co. building located where the Oakland Mall now sits.
Today, Lipka lives with caretakers Mike and Yvonne Arnold in their home in Brighton, Michigan, as part of the Medical Foster Home Program with the Veterans Affairs (VA) Ann Arbor Healthcare System.
The program pairs veterans who require round-the-clock care with private caregivers.
This prevents many veterans from entering nursing homes and helps the families of veterans who may be burdened by the constant care.
Currently, there are eight homes in the program — two in Toledo and six in southeast Michigan, serving 12 veterans, said April Bartlett, the program’s manager.
Lipka and Mike Arnold, 63, have formed a tight bond since Lipka moved in with the Arnolds two years ago. Arnold has no formal caretaker training, but had taken care of his mother, who suffered from Alzheimer’s. He built a house next door to his own in 2007, but she died a year later, leaving him with two homes during the economic crisis.
He sold his home and moved into the newly constructed house. Because it was built for caretaking, he decided to take in Lipka, who was in a nursing home at the time.
“The need was just so great,” Arnold said. “Marty was in a nursing home, and he hated it. He couldn’t go outside; he couldn’t see sunshine. Now he can walk out anytime he wants.”
Lipka said he is happy with the Arnolds’ care, that he likes to watch TV and sit outside to watch the ducks and geese.
“I’m happy. Most of the time. Mike’s OK. I can’t trade him for a new one,” Lipka said, joking during a recent telephone interview.
“When I brought him home, he went outside,” Arnold said. “When I saw that moment, it was just [so touching] and he’s not the only [veteran] who has needs. [The need] is real.”
Arnold and Lipka have made many trips and visits together. They even went to a Willie Nelson concert in Kalamazoo. The country star signed Lipka’s photograph, and Arnold hopes to find tickets for another show as Lipka is looking forward to seeing Nelson again.
In the past, they have visited The Henry Ford Museum to see Titanic exhibit and Detroit to see the Thanksgiving parade. They even went to Oak Grove, Lipka’s hometown where they visited the cemetery where his parents are buried and the seven-bedroom farmhouse where he grew up.
Bartlett said the VA is looking for more caregivers like Arnold to join its program. To sign up, a caregiver needs to be at least 21 years of age, have a backup caregiver who must meet requirements, have active CPR certification and live in a home that meets fire and safety standards.
When Bartlett places a veteran with a caregiver, she said she does so with the intention and hope that the placement will last indefinitely. Each home is allowed to take up to three veterans.
“Some veterans have mobility issues, so we prefer to have homes on the ground floor so they don’t have to navigate the stairs,” Bartlett said. “I’m hoping this will be [their] forever home and [they] will be able to stay indefinitely.”
The foster home program combines traditional foster care with a team of caregivers, Bartlett said. Several specialists will visit the home to check up on the veteran, including a nurse manager, social worker, dietitian, physical therapist, recreational therapist, psychologist and pharmacist. Depending on the veteran’s care plan, a veteran could be seen two to three times a week by care providers.
The VA doesn’t pay for the program. The cost is negotiated between the caregiver and the veteran and is “very reasonable” for the service they are being provided, Bartlett said. The average cost is $2,200-$2,300 a month which includes room and board, 24/7 care, meals, laundry and personal care.
“Those veterans eligible for VA benefits, I’m able to help them apply,” Bartlett said. “If eligible and awarded those benefits, they can use that. Primarily, they use their Social Security benefits to help them afford the care.”
Bartlett said the program is so successful, it’s actually saving taxpayers nationwide a million dollars about every seven days because the program diverts long-term care costs paid by the state Medicaid program.
The foster home program began in 2000 in Little Rock, Arkansas, by two social workers looking for care support for veterans in their own communities. A pilot program was created in 2004. Now there are 114 foster home sites across the country, currently serving 747 veterans, Bartlett said. The program at the Ann Arbor VA has served a total of 21 veterans since beginning three and a half years ago.
“We’ve seen an improvement in the health of some of our veterans,” Bartlett said. “One graduated from the program and was able
to move back home with a family member. We hope that this becomes their forever home, but it was good for him to get back on track.”
The foster home program takes the veterans out of institutionalized care and puts them into a family structure, offering the veterans to come and go as they would in a family unit. Arnold says Lipka can sit in his room or come out to discuss something he watched on TV. The relationship is mutually beneficial, he says.
“You do it because you can,” Arnold said. “There’s sacrifices and trade offs. But when they seem to appreciate it, you just know it’s right. And the main thing you know, really, is we’re getting older not younger. And we’re all going to need more help. Maybe the Lord will send someone to us when we get older.”
Tags: Alzheimer's, April Bartlett, Army 10th Mountain Division, Austria, Foster, Italy, Kalamazoo, Marty Lipka, Medical Foster Home Program, Mike Arnold, North Africa, Oak Grove, Oakland Mall, Seniors, VA Foster Care, Veterans Affairs, Willie Nelson, World War II