va program

The people who live in Pat Stryszak’s Burr Ridge home are one big family. Never mind that they’re not all related.

Along with her husband and children, the Stryszak house is home to Joe, an 87-year-old Korean War veteran, and Pat, a 92-year-old veteran of World War II. Joe and Pat could no longer live alone, but rather than move to a nursing home, they found a new home through the Hines Veterans Hospital’s Medical Foster Program.

With the support of the Veterans Administration, Joe and Pat are cared for 24 hours a day amongst all of the comforts of home.

Samantha Tepper, coordinator of the Hines program, said six homes in Illinois currently are approved for the program. It is her hope that more homes will soon become available, and that more veterans will take advantage of the foster care option.

Among other things, foster families must be able to provide a private, first-floor room for each veteran. References and previous caregiving experience also are required. Perhaps the most important component, Tepper said, is finding the right match between the veteran and his foster family.

The program is not for every veteran, Tepper said. But for those who have medical needs and don’t wish to go to a nursing home, the foster program can be a welcome alternative.

Stryszak said foster care is far less expensive than a nursing home. Even more important, she said, is the one-on-one care and attention that the foster home provides. She and her husband purchased a 12-passenger, accessible van that allows them to take the veterans not only to medical appointments, but to visit family, on outings such as carnivals and concerts, and to church.

“We take them to play bingo and out to the casino. We have a good time. We’re helping them live again, not just exist,” Stryszak said.

The Stryszaks aren’t in this alone. Foster families receive ongoing support and supervision from the VA. Medical professionals from Hines’ Home Based Primary Care program visit monthly, and are in contact almost daily, Stryszak said. She said support is available whenever it’s needed, and the VA also provides needed equipment, such as hospital beds and wheelchair ramps.

Joe and Pat aren’t the first veterans to spend time with the Stryszak family. Several have spent their final months at the foster home. Stryszak said that thanks to the program, they each died with the dignity and honor they deserved.

“It’s an honor doing this,” she said. “They did so much for all of us.”

“We need to open our hearts to them, and open our homes.”

For more information about the Medical Foster Program, contact Tepper at (708) 202-7878.