Foster families for veterans open their homes, hearts

Instead of going to a nursing home, elderly veterans find a place to call home.

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By Rachel Paula Abrahamson

When Lori Paris first met Vietnam War veteran Carroll Botts, he was living an isolated life in a nursing home.

“His room was dark and he was just laying in bed,” Paris told TODAY Parents. “He didn’t want to leave his room.”

Less than two years later, Botts, 70, is attending concerts and visiting with children at a local elementary school.

"Mr. Botts has come completely alive,” Paris said. “It’s like night and day.”

Vietnam War veteran Carroll Botts (far left) and World War II veteran Norman Miller (center) live with caregiver Barney Musselman in a medical foster home in Indiana.Courtesy of Thomas L. Downs, Medical Media Photographer, Louisville VAMC

Foster homes for veterans

Moving into a medical foster home marked the turning point. The foster home program, run by the Department of Veterans Affairs as an alternative to nursing home care, serves more than 1,000 veterans and offers 24/7 care in private homes. At $2,500 a month, it's half the price of a traditional nursing home, but many would argue the benefits are priceless. In these foster homes, many veterans find something that's been sorely missing in their lives: a sense of family and camaraderie.

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Paris, a medical foster home program coordinator, placed Botts in a sprawling ranch-style home with two other male veterans in Indiana. The homeowner — and the men's caregiver — is Barney Musselman, a chiropractor and licensed nurse who, like the other men in the home, is pretty low-key and loves being surrounded by nature.

“I’ll stop by and Mr. Botts is relaxing on the deck or hanging out in the living room,” Paris revealed. “I’ve never once seen him in his bed.”

More than 1,000 veterans are living in medical foster homes in the United States. Pictured here from left to right are World War II veteran Norman Miller, foster home caregiver Barney Musselman and Vietnam veteran Carroll Botts.Courtesy of Thomas L. Downs, Medical Media Photographer, Louisville VAMC

Not just a job, they're family

More than 1,000 miles away in Port St. Lucie, Florida, Regine Kercy is running a medical foster home where she cares for Henryette Marshall, a 95-year-old female veteran of World War II, and Henry W. Sterrett III, a 73-year-old Vietnam veteran. Like Botts, Sterrett has undergone a complete transformation.

"Hank looked about 20 years younger after being with Regina for two months," medical foster home program coordinator Emily Flowers-Yahn gushed. "He was wheelchair-bound and she worked with him every single day to improve his mobility. You can see he is so proud of what he has accomplished."

Henry W. Sterrett III, 73, and Henryette Marshall, 95, enjoy a family-like setting in their medical foster home in Port St. Lucie, Florida.Regine Kercy

Kercy doesn't consider what she does to be a job. In her mind, Marshall and Sterrett, both Navy veterans, are family. "They are my joy," she told TODAY Parents. "I love them."

Musselman and Kercy are among 700 caregivers in 44 states hosting up to three disabled veterans in their homes. All caregivers go through a rigorous training process and are certified in CPR. Veterans also receive at-home support from a team of VA health care staff members, including doctors, psychologists, occupational therapists and social workers.

Veterans with dementia or traumatic brain injury are particularly successful in medical foster homes, according to Dayna Cooper, director of the agency’s program.

“We find that nursing home environments aren’t good for those patients because they are overstimulating,” Cooper explained. “In a smaller home you have a routine caregiver and an environment that caters to your individual needs. If you want breakfast at 10 a.m., you can have breakfast at 10 a.m. It's not dictated by routines or a clock."

Medical foster home program coordinator Lori Paris spends time with World War II veteran Norman Miller.Courtesy of Thomas L. Downs, Medical Media Photographer, Louisville VAMC

A World War II veteran named Norman Miller moved into Musselman’s home on Halloween after breaking his hip. So far, he has no complaints.

“I jumped at the idea of coming here,” Miller, 93, said. “It’s a family situation and I like that."

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