Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

A new VA program helps keep disabled vets at home


March 5, 2020 | View PDF

Some military veterans who would otherwise need to live in nursing homes are able to remain at home thanks to a U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs pilot program in Haines.

The Veterans Options for Independence, Choice and Empowerment (VOICE) program gives vets a monthly stipend to hire people of their choosing to do everything from cooking dinners and bathing assistance to driving them to town for groceries.

Southeast Alaska Independent Living (SAIL) is administering the program in the Chilkat Valley and across Southeast Alaska. SAIL assistant director Sierra Jimenez said they’re trying to promote the program that has been working well for local vets for the past two years.

“In rural Southeast Alaska, it’s going to be huge for vets who want to stay in their homes, especially for places that don’t have personal care services,” Jimenez said.

While Haines has Cornerstone Home Care that provides in-home care services, the VOICE program allows vets to hire their spouses, friends or other family to perform tasks of their choosing.

“They can hire their spouse or their children, people who already doing it, and pay them,” Jimenez said.

Twelve veterans in Southeast Alaska enrolled in VOICE have monthly budgets between $1,100 and $19,000. Four veterans are benefiting from the program locally.

U.S. Coast Guard veteran Marvin Leak, 85, lives at Covenant Life Center with his wife Beverly Leak, 87. Beverly said Marvin needs help that she can’t always provide—simple things such as mending clothes, getting in and out of vehicles, getting dressed, driving him to and from town, and socializing with friends outside their home.

Beverly said paying a friend to help with the simple tasks of living gives them a reprieve from the nearly constant demands those tasks add up to.

“Marvin and I have been married for 61 years and I love him dearly, but sometimes we just get on each others’ nerves,” Beverly quipped. “If I stay by myself it gives me time to read a book without being interrupted, and to go out with my daughter and go to town.”

Veteran Mike Case, 96, is rapidly losing his vision. He has difficulty reading food labels at the grocery store and reading important mail. He pays a friend to cook and clean his small apartment. While Case still gets around on his own, it’s the little things easily taken for granted that he needs help with.

“I wanted pickles today and I got dill pickles instead of the kind that I wanted,” Case said. “I got an email from the veteran’s home in Palmer and I could not read it at all. The main benefit I get out of it is, because I cannot cook anything myself, I don’t ever turn on my stove. When I lived at the veteran’s home I started a small fire once.”

Case praised the VOICE program and SAIL for helping people with “the little things” like purchasing a walker, or rides to the Chilkat Center.

Army veteran Jerry Personnette and his friend Joe Ogborn, a Navy veteran, recently moved to the Mosquito Lake area in 2016. Personnette crashed his snowmachine last winter and broke five ribs, his collarbone, and a shoulder bone. On top of that, he suffered a stroke, Ogborn said. Ogborn, who also has a disability through the VA, manages Personnette’s care.

“The budget is strictly controlled,” Ogborn said. “Before I can spend anything on it I have to get direct approval through the system. If there’s something I think he could use then I have to contact them and they’ll get back to me as to whether or not they’ll approve the expenditure.”

They pay a neighbor who now works for them four days a week. “She lives down the road from me. I had met her a few different times,” Ogborn said. “I asked her if she wanted a job and she said ‘Sure, that’s a whole lot closer to home.’”

She helps cook, clean, do laundry and even shovel snow for the men and their small dogs.

“Two inches of snow and it’s up over their butt,” Ogborn joked.

Jimenez said the program, which is being tested across the country, has been a success. SAIL is now able to get more veterans enrolled and reach out to healthcare providers to make them aware of the program.

“This is a really different model than what has traditionally been done with the state, or the VA or with anything, which is giving the veteran, the consumer, control and choice,” Jimenez said.


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