Kelly Belinger-Sahr: Caring for our veterans

Kelly Belinger-Sahr: Caring for our veterans

Why should I go to the VA? This is a question asked by active-duty military members to veterans of almost every war. The answer is that EVERY American who has served in any branch of the military for any length of time could have benefits that they are entitled to. Benefits including medical care, financial assistance, education, home loans and more! The VA is growing and changing. We have increased specialty services including optometry, podiatry, mental health, physical therapy and others!

At the VA Illiana Health Care System, we have seen tremendous growth in the long-term care services offered to our veterans. Elderly or disabled veterans, including those who served in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, can received medical care in their homes or access to community programs such as homemaker/home health, adult day care and if needed, nursing home placement. Veterans have options to live in The Green Homes or at the Community Living Center (CLC) at our Danville campus as well as an exciting program called Medical Foster Home.

We would like to highlight the Medical Foster Home Program. This VA program is an innovative, cost saving and alternative option for veterans to receive long-term care in a home-like setting.

The program, whose motto is "Connecting Angels with Heroes," was created by two social workers at the VA in Little Rock, Ark., and piloted there in 2002.

Over a decade later, the program operates at 94 sites throughout the United States and in Puerto Rico and is expanding to 111 sites in 48 states and territories.

Illiana's program can accommodate up to 30 veterans. Kelly Belinger-Sahr, who works at the Peoria Community Based Outpatient Clinic, is actively searching for caregivers in the Danville, Peoria, Springfield, Decatur, Mattoon and West Lafayette, Ind., areas.

The Medical Foster Home program finds caregivers who are willing to take a veteran into their home and provide 24-hour supervision in a safe, friendly environment. The national model allows a caregiver to house up to three vets in his or her home, in Illinois; caregivers are limited to two, unless they are licensed as a care home with the state.

In addition to room and board, caregivers also provide veterans with personal care — bathing, dressing and grooming, if they need it — laundry and cleaning, help with medications, help communicating with health care providers, rides to appointments, church and community functions and other support. Ideally, caregivers will have some type of health care or caregiving experience, but it's not necessary. Each caregiver will have an alternate and this person can step in if the main caregiver has to be away or needs respite.

In addition, to the regular visits from a home-based primary care interdisciplinary team, Belinger-Sahr will make monthly unannounced visits to the homes to ensure everything is in order. She also will assist with any problems the veterans or caregivers might have.

There is also an inspection team that performs an annual inspection so that local, state and federal codes are met and maintained.

Veterans pay for the care. The cost typically runs from $1,400 to $2,500 a month, depending on the services that are provided.

She said caregivers may not get high monetary rewards but they will get a lot of satisfaction and joy in providing this service. It's a long-term commitment, Belinger-Sahr said. The expectation is a veteran could live there for an extended period of time, including to the end of their lives," she said. "We would help both the veteran and caregivers through that transition."

If you'd like to foster a veteran, the VA Illiana Health Care System is looking for caregivers for its Medical Foster Home program.

Caregivers must:

— Live within 30 miles of the main medical center in Danville or the community based outpatient clinics

— Be over 21.

— Own or rent their home.

— Speak, read and write English.

— Complete a criminal background check and provide three references.

— Be certified in first aid and CPR.

— Allow an interdisciplinary team into their home for monthly visits.

— Willingly accept, participate in and follow the veteran's treatment plan.

— Provide three healthy meals and snacks each day.

— Ensure 24-hour supervision for their veterans.

— Meet all federal, state and local licensure requirements and regulations.

Caregivers will be screened and matched to Veterans who are enrolled in or qualify for the VA's Home Based Primary Care program. Caregivers can have up to two veterans in their home unless they are licensed in Illinois as a care home or live in Indiana.

If you are interested in becoming a caregiver or would like more information, call Belinger-Sahr at 309-589-6800, Ext. 47375, or email her at Kelly.belinger-sahr@va.gov.

Kelly Belinger-Sahr is the program coordinator for the Home Based Primary Care program.

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