VA program helps veterans age in their homes with care
Alternative to nursing homes
— For a small number of Cecil County veterans, there is a way to age in place and have control of the situation.
Veteran Directed Care gives former service members a pool of funds each month to pay for in-home health care, which keeps them out of more expensive nursing homes.
The Veterans Affairs Maryland Health Care System works with the Cecil County Office on Aging and Disability Services to administer the program for five clients.
“We’re at capacity for now,” said Linda Willis, Aging and Disabilities Services chief.
The program began here once the county signed on and agreed to helped with its administration. While VDC started in other states in 2009, it arrived in Maryland in 2012. To date, there are only 45 available slots across the state, five of which are for Cecil County veterans.
Crystal Taylor, lead social worker in Geriatrics and Extended Care at Perry Point, said there is hope that could be expanded though.
“We’re always hoping we can add slots,” she said.
Winifred Frank, a U.S. Navy veteran, was the first to enroll in the Cecil County program. With her monthly
allotment, the Port Deposit woman pays for an in-home aide for four hours each day.
“She had been in a program before where the VA provided 10 hours of care per week,” her friend Dee Emsley said.
Now, the aide makes sure Frank has meals, medication, clean clothes and bedding and other care.
“Getting into this program was a godsend,” Emsley said.
Frank, 76, is pleased to stay in her own bedroom.
“I don’t want to be in a nursing home,” Frank said, cuddling with her dog Happy.
Through VDC, veterans like Frank receive as much as $3,000 each month. Acting as an employer, the veteran hires aides and can also pay for other equipment that helps him or her age in place. Part of Frank’s allotment pays for one of those medical emergency alert systems.
Taylor pointed out that it represents a huge savings over the cost of nursing home care.
“If you have a veteran paying for their care in this program, they may spend $2,800 to $3,000 per month. Depending on needs, nursing home care can run $7,000 to $20,000,” Taylor said.
A representative helps the vet assure those bills are paid, including payroll for the aides.
“They work with a fiscal mediator to pay their staff in a timely fashion,” Taylor said.
Erin Bird, home and community based services supervisor for the county, said her office comes alongside the veteran to help with the paperwork and organization.
“We write up the budget for them and it has to be approved by the Maryland Office on Aging and the VA,” Bird said.
Linda Willis, aging and disabilities services chief, said these veterans also get periodic visits to keep them on track.
“They make regular visits and quarterly visits and budget checks,” she said, noting it can be a daunting task. “When vets are told about this program, a lot are not interested in hiring their own employees and paying taxes on it.”
VDC only works if the vet has a support system, such as family or friends. Emsley works with Frank to hire the aides, which both said remains a challenge.
“They are well paid on an hourly basis,” Emsley said. “It’s just not many hours.”
“You can’t much blame them,” Frank added. “They want to be well-paid.”
To get into VDC, veterans have to be referred by their primary care physician in the VA system. Doctors will consider the person’s level of daily care needed, and how much the veteran can still do for him or herself.
“Eating is a big consideration,” said Cathy Cross, veteran directed care coordinator. “Mental health and certain medical needs are also considered such as catheters.”
For Frank, it means being able to stay in comfortable, familiar surroundings. It also means being able to keep her pets within arms’ reach.
“This was an initiative by the VA ... to see how to keep vets in the community, to keep them from nursing homes, and to stay in their own homes as long as possible,” Taylor said.
“I like it,” Frank said simply.
Winifred Frank cuddles with her dog Happy at her Port Deposit-area home. The disabled U.S. Navy veteran was the first to enroll in the Maryland Veterans Affairs Health System Veteran Directed Care program.