VA Rural Health Initiative and VA Medical Foster Home Program Managed by Department of Veteran Affairs for Those in Uniform Who Have Served Our Nation

Sandra L. Smith   By Sandra L. Smith, Partner, Oast & Hook

The Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) manages many programs for veterans including the Rural Health Initiative, and foster homes for veterans with disabilities.

The goal of the VA Rural Health Initiative is to help ensure the effective delivery of health services to rural and highly rural veterans.  Many of these veterans do not have transportation to see their physicians or other health care providers, or they do not live near a VA health care facility.  The VA has provided $21.7 million in competitive funding to improve services specifically designed for veterans in rural areas with 74 projects selected for funding.  One project designed to improve access to quality health care involves the Hampton VA Medical Center, as well as seven other facilities, serving veterans in Virginia, North Carolina, and parts of West Virginia.  The facilities operate aggressive outreach programs to veterans in order to provide them with information on their veterans' health care benefits, or answer questions that veterans may have about their care.  The goal of the initiative is to educate veterans and increase enrollment of eligible veterans into the VA health care system.  Pharmacists, nurse educators, and social workers are among the professionals on the initiative teams, which are now reaching into local cities.  According to the VA, more than 837,000 service members have deployed since 2002.  Of these deployed veterans, only 39% have used veterans' health care benefits.  The outreach program appears to be working; between February and October 2010, enrollment in the VA health care system has jumped in three Northeastern North Carolina counties serviced by the Hampton VA Medical Center.  For example, in Pasquotank County, VA enrollment increased from 7,919 in February 2010 to 13,393 in October 2010.

The medical foster home program is a new approach for veterans with disabilities.  The veterans receive medical care in a home setting, rather than in a facility.  The care is more personal and relaxed than care in an institution. "It's a holistic approach," says Alicia Thompson, medical foster care coordinator at the Hampton VA Medical Center.  The program does more than match a willing caregiver with a willing patient.  The patient must be suited for foster care.  Caregivers must undergo an FBI background check, get a physical, and their homes must be inspected for general safety, environmental concerns, and whether the space is adequate for the veteran.  A team from the VA checks in every month, and the caregiver and patient have regular contact with nurses, social workers, mental health experts and other professionals.  The caregiver dispenses medication and concentrates on giving the veteran a good quality of life.  The foster program is less expensive for the VA than institutional care; the veteran's financial benefits cover the cost of placement, and the amount depends on the level of care needed.  In the area served by the Hampton VA, the average cost is $1,000 to $2,000 per month, although that can be negotiated.  A veteran who does not have $1,000 per month to pay for care should not be discouraged from applying for the foster care program. 

The Oast & Hook News will monitor further development with these and other VA programs.

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Sandra L. Smith joined Oast & Hook in 2003.  Oast and Hook has served Southeastern Virginia and North Carolina for more than 80 years. Visit their website at www.oasthook.com for more information. Ms. Smith practices primarily in the areas of elder law, estate planning, estate and trust administration, special needs planning, asset protection planning, long-term care planning and Veterans' benefits. She is certified as an Elder Law Attorney (CELA) by The National Elder Law Foundation (NELF). In 2008, Ms. Smith was named as a Rising Star by Virginia Super Lawyers magazine. Rising Stars names the state's top up-and-coming attorneys.