Community Columns

Medical Foster Homes can improve the lives of California veterans

California is home to 1.8 million U.S. military veterans, more than any other state in the country. Many receive high-quality care at the VA medical facility in Palo Alto, but veterans living outside the Bay Area must travel long distances to access this care. I partnered with Assemblyman Berman, who represents Palo Alto, and authored Assembly Bill 550 to create a pilot program for a Medical Foster Home (MFH) program for veterans.

MFHs would go a long way toward solving many of the issues veterans face today with homelessness, healthcare, PTSD and other mental health-related issues. MFHs would help ensure the best possible efforts in taking care of those who wore the uniform in defense of our nation.

The VA has advanced care facilities and hospitals for veterans in the state. But many veterans who live in the Central Valley and other rural districts must travel two or three hours to get advanced care. Many of these veterans can’t drive or take care of themselves and the travel time alone becomes a significant obstacle to proper care. MFHs can help with all of these concerns.

MFHs are a proven model of home-based care which provide assisted living for eligible veterans, many of whom are often elderly or frail. The program utilizes an interdisciplinary team of physicians, nurses, aides and staff provided by the Veterans Health Administration. This program works alongside volunteer families and individuals who open their homes to care for these veterans.

Many veterans have PTSD and do not handle well institutionalized environments like wards, hospitals or hospice. MFHs provide a place where veterans feel like people, not a statistic or a patient number.

Under insurmountable financial and licensing barriers, the Residential Care Facility for the Elderly program, overseen by the state Department of Social Services, has been floundering. AB 550 fixes these issues and provides a reliable and proven federal-state partnership for veteran’s care. It also provides the security of sunsetting in 2023, when the state auditor will conduct an in-depth review and analysis of the program. This isn’t a new idea or a high-risk plan. MFH programs are running successfully and safely in 44 other states and territories.

AB 550 received not one vote in opposition throughout the entire committee process. Nor did it receive any opposition on the floors of the Assembly or the Senate. There is absolutely no legitimate reason not to support this pilot program and supply our veterans with these well-deserved resources. Not every veteran has a guaranteed support system, but families and individuals across the state are ready and honored to take care of these American heroes in their own homes.

California’s veterans have waited long enough. The people’s representatives in state government have spoken with a unanimous voice. I respectfully ask that Governor Newsom sign AB 550 into law and provide these much-needed services.

Heath Flora of Ripon, minority floor leader in the California Assembly, represents the 12th Assembly District.