Hampton VA Medical Center
Foster Home nice fit for disabled Vet
Disabled veteran George Kimble Jr., who served in Vietnam, spends his days taking walks in a quiet neighborhood, listening to music and getting what he wants for breakfast.
His chores, such as they are, include building a model of a 1937 Ford sedan.
This is no exclusive retreat. Kimble has moved into a neat, modest home on Bain Street and says he is happy under the care of Joyce Johnson, a Good Samaritan seemingly out of central casting who acts as a medical foster parent.
The medical foster home program is a relatively new approach from the Department of Veterans Affairs, aimed at disabled veterans in Hampton Roads and elsewhere.
It is less costly for taxpayers because patients help defray costs in exchange for an environment that is more personal and relaxed than any institution can hope to offer.
Kimble gets medical care in a stress-free home setting. He doesn't suffer for attention. And he can even hang out with Johnson's great-granddaughter on occasion.
"It's a holistic approach," said Alicia Thompson, medical foster care coordinator at the Hampton VA Medical Center.
The program's appeal becomes more personal as Johnson and Kimble talk at the family table.
"We have a good time together, don't we, George," said Johnson.
That prompts a smile from the soft-spoken 63-year-old.
"Yes, ma'am," he says.
The transition to foster caregiver seemed natural for Johnson. After working 34 years in the food service industry, she wanted to tackle something more meaningful.
"I've always liked working with the sick," she said. "Different people would always tell me, that is your job."
Her husband is a veteran who requires regular trips to the Hampton VA center, so she knows the way.
"Whenever I'd go to the VA, I'd be walking through and people would start talking to me about their illness," she said. "They just wanted somebody to talk to. And I said, 'this is a good thing.'"
So she called the Hampton staff to ask about opportunities to volunteer, and they connected her to the foster home program.
For Kimble, his entry into the program represents a return to his roots. A native of Virginia Beach, he spent 17 years in an assisted living facility in Roanoke. His sister, whom VA officials described as a staunch advocate for him, wanted her brother closer to home.
He was deemed a candidate for the foster home program, and VA officials paired him with Johnson.
Kimble is the kind of veteran who can fit in a foster home environment, even though his health is far from perfect. He has a mental disorder which affects his memory. He has hip problems, a cyst on his face and dental concerns, said Thompson, the coordinator.
But he can walk around on his own, is able to express himself and can take care of his personal needs.
"He's also been able to have more contact with his family," said Thompson. "Being in Roanoke, he was a long way from home."
However, the foster home program is a bit more complex than simply matching a willing caregiver and a willing patient, although that's obviously a requirement.
Caregivers like Johnson must undergo an FBI background check and get a physical. Her home was inspected by a VA team for general safety, environmental concerns and whether the rooms were adequate.
A VA team checks in every month. Johnson and Kimble have regular contact with a nurse, social worker, mental health experts and others.
"We're only a phone call away," said Shelia Griffin, Hampton VA home and community care manager.
Because Kimble's care is provided at home, the only time he visits the Hampton VA is for something like dental work, when special equipment is required.
Johnson dispenses any medication that Kimble needs and otherwise concentrates on giving him a good quality of life. That includes daily walks, some TV and playing games.
"We see Ms. Johnson as an extension of the services we're providing to patients," Griffin said.
For the VA, the foster program is less expensive than institutionalized care. The veteran's financial benefits cover the cost of placement, and the amount is based on the level of care required.
In the Hampton VA area, the general guidelines are $1,000 to $2,500 a month. However, that is negotiable. Someone who cannot contribute $1,000 should not be deterred from applying, Hampton VA officials say.
Kimble moved in with Johnson more than two months ago. Since then, he says he's feeling better. The atmosphere has rubbed off on Johnson, too. Recently, a doctor told her that bone density problems of concern two years ago have improved.
She attributes that to a steady regimen of bending, cooking, walking, climbing stairs – and otherwise caring.
"They say, 'whatever you're doing, keep doing it.' I know what I'm doing," she said.
For more news of the region's armed forces, visit hrmilitary.com
For more information on the medical foster home program at the Hampton VA, call Alicia Thompson, medical foster care coordinator, at 757-722-9961, extension 3744 or 1651.