CHEYENNE, Wyo. — The Veterans Administration is establishing a foster care-style program in Wyoming for veterans who are unable to live at on their own but don't require nursing care.
"Unfortunately we see a lot of people going into nursing homes when, if they had a family member or caretaker, they could be able to be at home," said Irene Johnson, coordinator of the Medical Foster Home program at the Cheyenne VA.
The program has been implemented at 72 sites in 35 states.
The VA currently is recruiting people who will care for Wyoming veterans in their homes.
Johnson said the program aids veterans unable to meet their own needs, such as taking medication or eating properly. The veterans could live in a caretaker's home, paying for care with their assistance payments.
VA staff members will perform background checks and train and monitor assistance several times per week to ensure veterans' safety, Johnson said.
Johnson said the most likely people who will serve as caretakers are those who enjoy tending to others but are more adult focused.
The caretaker, Johnson said, could be a certified nurse assistant (CNA) employed by a nursing home.
The caretaker can earn $1,500 to $3,000 per month depending on the veteran's assistance compensation.
"Heroes Meet Angels" is the slogan for the new foster program.
Johnson said the foster homes and caregivers must meet a rigorous compliance check.
"We would not expose any veterans to an environment that would be less than therapeutic," said Andrew Ruben, VA public information officer.
The foster program will add to the array of services available to veterans at Wyoming's VA facilities in Cheyenne and Sheridan.
Although the Sheridan facility focuses on substance abuse and mental health issues, it offers a range of other services, Ruben said.
The Cheyenne VA focuses on outpatient services, which are not always enough to help some veterans. That's where the foster program comes in.
Another new program, the veterans' treatment court in Laramie County, is also moving along.
The court aids veterans who get into legal trouble because of mental illness and substance abuse problems.
This program began a few years ago in Buffalo, N.Y., and has since been adopted in 80 other cities.
The principal operators working on the Wyoming program are Larry Barttelbort, director of the Wyoming Veterans Commission; Steven Price, justice outreach coordinator for the VA; and Gary Hartman of the governor's office, a former district judge.
Barttelbort said Laramie County Circuit Court Judge Roberta Coates has agreed to be the presiding judge for the veterans treatment court.
Meanwhile, veterans groups are promoting a farm bill in Congress to help returning troops find agricultural careers.
The farm bill passed the Senate and is now in the House of Representatives.
U.S. Sens. Mike Enzi and John Barrasso, both R-Wyo., voted for the bill, their spokesmen said.
The veterans' amendment, sponsored by Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., gives veterans priority for several programs, including land and cost-sharing programs created for poor or new farmers.
A veteran who no-till farms to prevent erosion, for example, would get paid through membership in the the Conservation Stewardship program and would have access to acreage set aside for new or poor farmers, according to published reports.
Veterans would be assured slots in the Conservation Reserve program, which pays farmers for not working environmentally sensitive land, and they would receive financial help for improving wells or irrigation systems.
Baucus' amendment also creates a military veterans agricultural liaison in the U.S. Department of Agriculture to connect returning veterans to programs for beginning farmers.
About 45 percent of U.S.military volunteers come from rural communities and are finding it difficult to get civilian jobs when they return home.
The unemployment rate for veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan is about 20 percent compared with slightly more than 8 percent for the general public, the report said.