Monday, January 4, 2010

An Alternative to Nursing Homes for Vets

Joe Wymer, center, has opened his Winterset home to U.S. military veterans Ron Marusek, right, and Bob Fenoglio through a federal foster program for veterans.

Excerpted from a Des Moines Register article:

Iowa veterans gain freedom, family through foster program

Winterset, Ia. - If they weren't living in Joe Wymer's house, Vietnam War veterans Ron Marusek and Bob Fenoglio would be in a nursing home by now.

Marusek, 65, has terminal cancer. Fenoglio, 67, has a severe case of multiple sclerosis. Both decided to enroll in a new federal program in which veterans can choose to live with paid "foster families" instead of in an institution.

"They're awfully nice to me," Marusek said of his foster family, which includes local residents whom Wymer hires to come over and help. "They take care of you like you're gold. They treat you with respect and compassion."

Wymer smiled. "You're forgetting the best part," he said. "We're family."

"That's right," Marusek said. "I feel like Joe's older brother."

The arrangement is organized by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, whose nurses and other staff members make regular visits to the foster homes. The veterans directly pay the homeowners for services, including meals, bathing, laundry, medication assistance and transportation to doctors' offices and local stores. Marusek pays $2,000 a month, which comes from his military pension and Social Security. Fenoglio, who uses a wheelchair and needs more help, pays $3,000 per month.

The idea is new in Iowa, with just four veterans living in three foster homes so far. Nationwide, about 600 veterans have participated in the program since it started in 2000 in Arkansas.

Veterans stay with their foster families an average of nearly two years, and their medical conditions often worsen with age, Edes said. More than half stay with their foster families until they die.

Wymer, the Winterset homeowner, said he was up for the challenge. He already was caring for his aging father at home, and he decided he had room and time to help two veterans. "It's a way to give something back to these guys, who we've been taking from pretty much all their lives," he said.

Wymer said the veterans' rent payments let him concentrate full time on their needs. "You don't go into this to get rich," he said. "It basically pays the bills - no thrills."

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