Your turn: Aging veterans deserve our support and care

American veterans put their lives on the line for fellow citizens. Now, it’s our turn to help our aging veterans.

Many of these brave individuals can no longer live on their own and are moved into VA Community Nursing Home (CNH) or have a caretaker in their home.

However, there is a newly introduced piece of legislation that provides one more solution that not only saves money but also gives these veterans more independence.

The Expanding Veterans’ Options for Long Term Care Act (S.495/HR1815) would create a small pilot program offering eligible veterans the opportunity to have their care needs met in an assisted living community rather than in a veterans CNH. This bill has wide bipartisan support and the full support of the Affordable Assisted Living Coalition.

Everybody benefits from this legislation. Veterans can live in an environment that promotes independence and well-being. Additionally, costs are reduced for both the VA and the state of Illinois.

The numbers alone speak for themselves. The average annual cost of a CNH placement was $120,701in FY 2020, compared to an average annual cost of $51,600 for assisted living. If Illinois’ Supportive Living providers are selected to participate in S.495/HR1815’s pilot program, the VA could save approximately $69,101per placement per year.

Supportive Living is assisted living for low-income seniors in Illinois. Supportive Living provides a less costly alternative to nursing home care for veterans who do not require daily skilled nursing interventions and do not have cognitive or behavioral issues. Approximately 5% of Veterans in CNHs at the VA’s expense meet this description.

According to the VA, “the number of veterans aged 85 or more years eligible for nursing home care will increase 535% over the next 20 years, from 61,000 to 387,000. The associations further stated that the number of older adults needing long-term care is projected to increase from 6.3 million in 2015 to 15 million by 2050. At the same time, the number of unpaid family caregivers available assist in their care is expected to decline, they noted.”

Affordable assisted living gives veterans a meaningful alternative where they can have their care needs met and also maintain independence by living in an apartment where they will have access to intermittent nursing care, housekeeping, social/recreational programming, meals, wellness promotion, and exercise programs, personal care, medication management, and more. All this is at a huge savings to the state and the VA.  With affordable assisted living, veterans can build and maintain community relationships while confidently knowing their health care needs are being met.

With a rapidly growing veteran’s population, the Expanding Veterans’ Options for Long- Term Care Act comes at the right time. It gives the VA one more meaningful option with its long-term care services. The Supportive Living Program is a viable option that saves Illinois between $176-$221 million annually. Currently, there are 154 Supportive Living Program communities across 73 Illinois counties with almost 13,000 apartments that provide affordable, safe housing for older persons and those with disabilities.

Veterans deserve to have the option that allows them the chance to preserve their autonomy while living in a more comfortable, less restrictive community setting. This pilot program is a wise choice that can make it happen for them.

I encourage every representative in the state to support S.495/HR1815.

Karin Zosel is the executive director of the Affordable Assisted Living Coalition.
Karin Zosel is the executive director of the Affordable Assisted Living Coalition.

Karin Zosel is the executive director of the Affordable Assisted Living Coalition, a 501(c)(6) not-for-profit membership organization made up of individuals and entities that develop and/or operate affordable assisted living projects (Supportive Living Facilities) and their business partners that have an interest or involvement in Illinois' Supportive Living Program (SLP).

This article originally appeared on Rockford Register Star: Your turn: Aging veterans deserve our support and care