- Associated Press - Saturday, February 7, 2015

SPARTA, Wis. (AP) - Home-cooked food and a yearning to explore photography prompted Carleton Dedolph to move from the Tomah VA Medical Center to a foster home in a new Veterans Affairs program there.

“Frankly, I was getting fed up with the food, and I thought it would be better to have different surroundings to restore my creativity that I couldn’t do in the hospital,” the 60-year-old Army veteran said in an interview with the La Crosse Tribune (https://bit.ly/1LRfw9h ) while relaxing in the VA Medical Foster Home near Sparta.

“I grew up shooting pictures with a Polaroid and a Super 8, but they’re outdated,” said Dedolph, who had been hospitalized at the medical center for treatment of his paranoid schizophrenia and other health issues for nearly 10 months before moving to the foster home setting last month.

The Medical Foster Homes program began nationally in small pilot programs in 2000, and the Tomah VA last year became the first VA facility in the state to offer the option, said Danielle Puccetti, who launched the effort and now is coordinator of Patient-Centered Care and Cultural Transformation there.

The program matches veterans with people who can provide 24/7 supervision in their homes, augmented with support from a home-based primary care team to provide medical and therapeutic services, she said.

“The VA is working to provide care that enhances veterans’ health not just physically, but their overall well-being,” Puccetti said. “It’s really about veteran choice.”

The Tomah VA also has six houses in which 40 veterans stay because they need more hands-on assistance than Dedolph does, she said.

Dedolph, a Vietnam-era Army medic who said he served in Okinawa, Japan, is the second vet in the Tomah foster program since it began last year. He would have been eligible for VA nursing home care, but he said he opted for the foster home at his own expense because it allows him more independence. His monthly cost is a little over $2,000, which he said comes from his VA disability pay.

When Dedolph left the military after two years’ service, he said his schizophrenia hindered his concentration, and his jobs were confined mostly to temporary work.

A native of Hudson, Wisconsin, Dedolph lived with his parents off and on for several years in St. Croix Beach, Wisconsin, and later in Washington state.

“I needed them at that time because I was under a lot of distress,” he said.

After moving back to Wisconsin, he had lived in his own apartment in Tomah and later, in Liberty Village assisted living, until he required more care, said his sister and guardian, Carol Berg, a retired attorney in the Twin Cities.

“I think it’s a great turn of events,” Berg said. “He likes it a lot. He gets good care at the VA, but he likes more of a home environment. It’s a great concept, but you have to fit the place to the vet. We had to wait a long time until we found the right one.”

Carla Lanning’s Home Away From Home, which houses two older women in addition to Dedolph, fit the bill for the veteran, who has his own room with a bed, recliner, TV and digital video recorder and eats meals with Lanning and the women.

“I just jump for joy - I really do,” Dedolph said of Lanning’s service - especially the home-cooked meals. “I really like the pancakes and bacon, and I’m a big meatloaf man. I like the other two residents, but they make me a little nervous.”

Dedolph said he still faces challenges, acknowledging, “I’m going through a tough period now and I can’t sit up very well. I lie in bed for a long time.”

“By and large, it’s good to feel I have assistance and it’s better than walking around the hospital, although the VA has a really good library,” he said. “Some of the patients make a lot of noise, and this is quieter.

“When I take all of my medicine, I don’t have too many problems,” he said.

Lanning, who maintains a relaxed atmosphere in the home, said, “There are days he doesn’t feel like getting dressed, so he runs around in his pajamas. Everybody likes a pajama day.”

He also likes old movies and TV shows, such as “Gunsmoke,” ”The Rifleman,” Wanted Dead or Alive” and “Bonanza,” among others, he said.

“They are kind of a comfort, I guess,” he said. “It reminds me of being a boy or young man.”

Dedolph said he is looking forward to spring, when he will help Lanning with a flower and vegetable garden.

He expressed sadness about the recent controversy surrounding medications at the Tomah VA, saying, “It’s a good VA for me.”

His sister echoed the sentiment, saying, “From my viewpoint, he’s gotten great care. They’ve been very attentive to him, with team meetings and adjusting his medications when necessary.”

Lanning said she decided to obtain a state license as an elder care facility after being a certified nursing assistant for 13 years.

“I got tired of the nursing care people get in a nursing home. It just wasn’t personal care,” she said.

Now, she said, “It’s nice to see a smile on their face when they’re happy and you know you’ve improved their lives.

The foster home caregivers must meet rigorous standards, including being able to provide around-the-clock supervision in the home, with a limit of three veterans or other residents, Puccetti said.

“We do inspections and reference checks,” as well as requiring applicants to answer a questionnaire about why they want to be involved, she said.

“I read Carla’s letter and everybody (on the selection committee) was just speechless,” Puccetti said. “It spoke from her heart.”

Lanning cited a mutual reward: “You don’t know if you’re here for them or they’re here for you. This is my family.”

Dedolph considers it his family, too, advising other vets, “If you decided to become more independent, consider going into a foster home.”

___

Information from: La Crosse Tribune, https://www.lacrossetribune.com


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