VA program that saves thousands in taxpayer funds on the choppin - - Columbia, South Carolina |

VA program that saves thousands in taxpayer funds on the chopping block

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A veterans program that saves taxpayers about $5,000 per veteran is in danger of being cut because not enough veterans are participating.

The program is called the "Veteran Directed Home and Community Based Services." It allows veterans to stay at home and get care versus having to be placed in a care home.

For the few who have participated in this federally-funded program run by the Department of Veterans Affairs, they have nothing but good things to say. It's just hard to understand why the VA isn't referring more veterans. This was a pilot program in Columbia and Charleston with the potential to be rolled out statewide.

After 50 years, Karen and Dave Sonnefeld expected retirement to be different. Dave, a golfer, was expecting to enjoy the fairway, but several mini strokes have the clubs in the garage, and VA doctors recommending around-the-clock care.

"I thought I'm not ready for this, you know, I expected it with my parents, but I didn't think I'd be here this quickly with my husband," said Karen.

A nursing home could quickly wipe out the couple's savings. That's when the VA recommended the Veterans Directed Home and Community Based Services program. Dave gets funds to hire his own caregivers, allowing him to stay at home.

"It was a miracle that someone in the world finally understood the importance of keeping these boys in the home," said Karen.

In South Carolina, the VA pays an average of $7,000 a month to keep a veteran in a nursing home, while the in-home program averages $1,800 a month.

"That in of itself should be an incentive to expand the program," said Tony Kester with the Lt. Governor's Office on Aging.

The Office on Aging and three other agencies who help administer says its the opposite.

"There are waiting lists at the medical centers," said Kester. "We're not getting the referrals. We've not had a referral in two months."

In 3 years, they've had just 70 veterans participate and they need more to keep the program viable.

So why have there been so few referrals? VA officials wouldn't talk on camera, but sent out a statement instead with information about the program.

"I think the VA is so layered, it's so bureaucratic, I don't know that there's been clear direction from Washington," said Kester. "We hear, we are promised, they are long on rhetoric, but they're very short on action, and so we are frustrated."

So Karen and Dave are worried the program's end may mean more talk of a nursing home.

"People keep telling me, you know you're going to have to make a decision sooner or later that you can't do this," said Karen. "Well, I certainly hope it's later rather than sooner, because it's not a decision I want to do after being married over 50 years to this man."

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