The arrest for elder abuse of a Mobile County couple who were operating a “home for veterans” is bringing attention to legitimate Veterans Administration programs that place vets in home environments.
Donny Owens and his wife Tilena were arrested in May after Mobile County sheriff’s deputies found six veterans living in a home under “deplorable” conditions on Lakeview Lane Extension in Grand Bay. All six vets were hospitalized. One remains in a hospital.
“I’m a veteran myself so it angers me,” says Capt. Paul Burch of the Mobile County Sheriff’s Office.
Burch says deputies found food cabinets and refrigerators locked. None of the vets had access to a phone. Smoke detectors were disconnected. One veteran had to sleep in a chair.
“It was deplorable for anyone to live in,” Burch said. “ I personally wouldn’t let my animals live there. It was six grown men living in a home of 1,000 square feet. One bathroom. Several were not able to care for themselves. It was a horrible situation for them to be in. We need to take care of these people who served our country.”
This so-called “veterans home” was not sanctioned in any way by the Veterans Administration or any legitimate federal or state organization.
“It makes me sick,” said Alice Entrekin, who oversees legitimate group home situations for the V.A.
Entrekin says there are two different types of VA group homes operating on the Gulf Coast. Community Residential Care Homes can have no more than six vets. Six of these group homes are currently operating in Biloxi and one in Pensacola.
For vets with greater health care needs, there are Medical Foster Homes. No more than three vets can reside in one of these homes. There are four in Biloxi, two in Mobile, and two in Pensacola.
One of the medical foster homes in Mobile is in the home of Sandy and Charles Campbell.
“Knowing what they did for us, now we can be their heroes,” Sandy Campbell said.
The Campbells were foster parents, and as their children left their home they decided to take in veterans. They started with one vet in 2013, and now have three veterans in their home. One is a 101-year-old Buffalo Soldier. All vets have their own bedroom, as is required by the program. The veterans are fed three meals a day.
The Campbells say this is a better situation for many vets than a large institutional setting.
“It’s an alternative to the nursing home,” Sandy Campbell said. “Some families do not want to place their loved ones in a facility. This gives them an opportunity to live with a family and feel like family.
“It’s a personal touch,” she said. “You’re still in someone’s personal home, in a community. You are not in an institution — a hospital or a nursing home facility.”
The Campbells say they take the vets to church, senior centers, doctors appointments and more.
“We give them freedom, take them places, do things with them,” Charles Campbell said. “They are members of our family. One family, one love.”
The Campbells have even taken their veterans as far as Alaska and New Mexico for the National Veteran Golden Age Games.
The V.A. provides a number of resources, including in-home medical care.
“You have a full interdisciplinary staff of nurses: nurse practitioners, physical therapists, occupational therapists,” Entrekin said. “You have a multitude of services going in and out of these homes. You are getting all around well-taken care of people.”
Entrekin says hosts receive training prior to accepting veterans into their homes. The V.A. routinely inspects the group and foster houses. Hosts are paid from $1,700 to $3,000 a month per veteran to cover all of the vet’s expenses.
“It’s not a program that can sustain anyone,” Entrekin said. “We tell people it’s not something you can solely do for money.”
To become a Medical Foster Home Caregiver or Community Residential Care Caregiver contact the following:
In Mobile: Kelly Estle (251) 219-3968.
In Pensacola: Cindy Bradford (850) 912-2297
In Biloxi: Tushonda Boyd (228) 523-4664.
If a veteran or their family member is interested in the program, they should contact a social worker at their V.A. medical clinic to begin the process. The veteran and family members are welcome to tour prospective homes and can get information on past inspections.
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