Seniors benefit from VA contract

As one of his final accomplishments in office, Alaska Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, has given Homer area veterans a gift. He helped facilitate a five-year contract with Homer Senior Citizens and Veterans Affairs that will cover the cost of veterans participating in HSC’s adult day services program, Friendship Center.

“For the past two years, HSC has been working with U.S. Sen. Mark Begich to bring veterans services to the local level. Through the senator’s efforts and dedication, HSC was invited to contract with Veterans Affairs for the next five years to provide adult day services in our local community,” Keren Kelly, HSC executive director, said in a recent press release.

The contract goes into effect in January.

“That’s huge news,” said Kelley. “This is a very good opportunity for Homer. We’re the only one in the state, that I’m aware of, to offer this.”

Among the veterans at Friendship Center who will benefit from the HSC-VA agreement is 94-year-old Jack Vantrease. It was an adventurous life journey that brought Vantrease first from the Oklahoma Dust Bowl to fishing from a Bristol Bay sailboat, from serving in the U.S. military in the Philippines during World War II to homesteading in the Iliamna Lake area. 

Fifteen years ago he traded in his remote homestead site for Anchorage’s urban setting, “but I finally convinced him to move down to the Terrace,” said Vantrease’s son, Jerry, of convincing his father to move into HSC’s assisted living facilities. “He tells me on a very regular basis how happy he is I talked him into it.”

Lee and Todd Tenhoff’s mother, Katherine, 92, who served in the U.S. Navy during World War II, also will benefit from the program.

“This is wonderful news,” said Lee Tenhoff.

Friendship Center began as an HSC program about 15 years ago. It runs from 9 a.m.-3 p.m., Monday through Friday, and provides one-on-one, person-centered care structured around clients’ needs. The program’s activities help individuals fulfill physical, mental, social and emotional needs. Among them are arts and crafts, baking and hydroponic gardening that produces herbs used in preparing meals served in the senior center dining room. 

It recently began a music and memory program with a grant from Don and Shelly Rubin for the purchase of 40 iPods. Local organizations, such as Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies, provide educational presentations. A large number of volunteers frequently offer musical entertainment. Other volunteers are involved in reading novels to Friendship Center clients.

Staffing allows for one staff member for every four participants. Cost of the program is $82.96 per person for a full, six-hour day. Non-veteran clients are billed based on a sliding scale that takes income into consideration. Medicaid also can be billed for those who qualify for that program.

The contract with VA also allows HSC to bill for partial hours in 15-minute increments for clients that aren’t there the full day or have arranged to stay longer due to personal circumstances. To qualify under the contract, individuals have to be veterans in good standing and receive medical benefits through the VA, said Kelly. Neither HSC membership nor being a resident at the Terrace is required. 

Kelly praised Begich’s priority to “bring veterans’ services to the local community. He was instrumental in bringing veterans’ health care to the Homer area. South Peninsula Hospital and SVT Health and Wellness are able to provide veterans health care and now Adult Day Services are being added to provide a continuum of care at the local level, saving in health care costs for veterans.”

Vantrease said the contract is welcome news for his father.

“Up until now, (the VA) really hasn’t done anything but medical care on the Kenai Peninsula, which is great and it’s nice of them to take care of physical problems, but it’s better to head them off at the pass,” said Vantrease of the positive impacts that come from the interaction available at Friendship Center.

Tenhoff said with his mother’s vision and hearing fading, Friendship Center’s programs are valuable.

“She can use all the help she can get. She really deserves it,” said Tenhoff.

The new agreement is an important piece in providing local services to Homer’s senior citizens who are veterans, according to Kelley.

“We would like to thank Sen. Begich and the Alaska Veterans Affairs for being a strong advocate and supporter of veterans. (Sen. Begich’s) efforts will be another step in bringing all veterans services to the local level and keeping our veterans home,” she said.

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at