As the chief advocate for seniors and vulnerable adults in our state, I was deeply troubled and saddened that services for a federally-funded program designed to keep veterans in their homes instead of nursing homes is being terminated because of lack of support by the Veterans' Administration.
A program that is both cost effective (on average three times less expensive) and will allow our elderly, disabled, or injured heroes the opportunity to live in familiar surroundings with their loved ones has not been given the priority it deserves.
The S.C. Lieutenant Governor's Office on Aging was asked by the VA to begin this as a pilot program. A database system was created, as required, and several veterans were selected to enter the program in March 2011.
Since last November, because of the precarious funding issues and the failure of the VA to direct veterans into the program, as required, the Office on Aging has attempted to reach out to the VA in an effort to secure consistent funding so these veterans already in the program would have peace of mind in knowing their care would be continued. These efforts have not netted any movement or results from the VA until they were put on notice that the program would have to be terminated at the end of September for lack of funding. There are no state funds to supplement these costs, and we cannot and will not run a deficit. It is hard to believe an agency that takes from three months to a year-and-a-half to process veterans' disability claims has the capability to put this program back on track and guarantee protection for these vets in a week's time. A bandaid approach or temporary fix is simply not acceptable.
With over 550,000 veterans in our state, the problem of caring for older veterans and those returning from Iraq or other recent wars will continue to put pressure on nursing homes in our state that are already near or at capacity. Furthermore, how many of our nursing homes will turn to private-pay-only facilities since the VA is at capacity and will pay these facilities more than Medicaid to secure the same bed?
Moreover, while our state's senior population continues to grow to almost two million over the next fifteen years, how are we going to provide adequate institutional care for seniors in need if we needlessly increase the demand on scarce beds?
What's even more tragic, a 21-year-old veteran, seriously wounded in war and one who will require nursing-home level of care the rest of his life, may be forced to live out his years in an institution intended to care for seniors because there are no alternatives in this state.
Over the past year, I have met thousands of seniors, and the one thing they all have in common is that they want to remain in their homes for as long as possible. It just makes sense that our veterans want the same opportunity.
The Office on Aging has worked diligently to create a program that has proven results and will keep those veterans safely at home. It is unfortunate that this program has failed to receive the support and guaranteed, dedicated funding from the VA in Washington.
Our veterans answered the call to duty when it came; many sacrificed their lives; and others returned severely wounded. It is time the call is returned by the agency whose sole mission is to help our veterans - they deserve no less.