New program funds veterans-choice caretakers in Alaska ‘they can hire and fire and train whoever they’d like’

A man sits on a bench with a cane
Veteran Joe Hotch at Picture Point in Haines. Hotch has been using a new program that lets veterans choose their own caretakers which allows him to continue living at home, instead of an assisted living facility. (Photo courtesy Mel G Photography)

Veterans Day reminds Americans to honor those who’ve served the country, but many senior veterans need help on a daily basis.

To help facilitate that, Southeast Alaska Independent Living (SAIL) is offering a program in which veterans can choose their own caretakers. It also allows those seniors to continue living at home, instead of an assisted living facility.

There are about 77,000 veterans in Alaska, but according to AARP, only about 29 percent of them access Veterans Affairs benefits. That’s why Janine Allen, who works in SAIL’s Haines office, wants to spread the word about their services.    

“I feel like anything we can do to promote veterans being able to obtain the care they need and be able to live happy lives at home is really what SAIL is all about,” she said.

SAIL’s newest program is called VOICE, which stands for Veteran Options for Independence, Choice and Empowerment. 

“It’s a veteran-directed program. So it’s designed for veterans that need assistance with their daily living, but they want to remain at home,” said SAIL Assistant Director Sierra Jimenez. 

Interested veterans need to enroll in VA Health Care and meet the criteria for nursing-home level care. Then the VA will give them a monthly budget. 

“Then they can hire and fire and train whoever they’d like,” Jimenez said. “It can be a family member, a spouse, it can be the neighbor. Our job is to help coordinate it and kind of be the in-between [person] with the VA and just make sure that the program is on track, answer any questions and help with paperwork.”

At that point, all the veteran has to do is submit time sheets for their chosen employees. Jimenez said the program is especially helpful for those who live in more rural parts of Alaska where there’s a shortage of care workers.

“So even though they qualify for services, they can’t get employees to provide them,” Jimenez said. “[VOICE] also allows people to hire a family member who is already doing the work. It can relieve some of the stress if they had to quit their job to take care of their spouse. Now they can get paid to do that.”

91-year-old veteran and Haines resident, Joe Hotch has been using the VOICE program for a year and a half. His wife Georgiana Hotch said Joe was able to hire two caretakers, set their wages and use any leftover funds to meet other needs, like purchasing a bed rail.

“That helps him to get out of bed in the morning or in the middle of the night,” she said. “It really helped him to regain independence at his age.”

Georgiana is not retired yet. She said VOICE allows her to continue to work without worrying about her husband.

“It has helped Joe and I immensely,” she said. “We’re very thankful.” 

SAIL offers VOICE throughout Southeast Alaska, the Mat-Su Valley and the Kenai Peninsula. For more information about the program, you can contact your local SAIL office or visit their website.

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