Wineka column: World War II vets find an angel caregiver in VA’s foster home program

  • Posted: Tuesday, August 27, 2013 1:23 a.m.
Loretta Angle, left, has provided a medical foster home for World War II veteran Ralph Clutter, next to her, for the past six months. The support team for them includes nurse practitioner Rebecca Noell, middle, nurse Mark Thompson and assistant Sue Cherry.
Loretta Angle, left, has provided a medical foster home for World War II veteran Ralph Clutter, next to her, for the past six months. The support team for them includes nurse practitioner Rebecca Noell, middle, nurse Mark Thompson and assistant Sue Cherry.

SALISBURY — It wouldn’t be fair to call Loretta Angle a foster mother, given the age difference between her and the two World War II veterans she has taken in.

Angle just turned 30. Ralph Clutter is 88; Foil Swing, 93.

Clutter has lived with Angle and her husband, Corey, for six months in a small house on the eastern side of Salisbury. Swing joined them in May, so now every room in the Angle household is spoken for.

Angle (pronounced “Angel”) describes Clutter with words such as kind, respectful, protective “and kind of laid back.” In turn, Swing has a devilish streak to him.

Ask Swing his age, and he might answer with, “Old enough to drive a taxi.” Ask him the secret to staying married 70 years, as he was with his late wife, Vivian, he replies immediately, “Take orders.”

The men are part of the newly established medical foster home program through the Hefner VA Medical Center. Angle’s home was the first one qualified through the medical center, and Clutter was the first placement of a veteran.

“Loretta has set the bar high, let’s put it that way,” says Debbie Todd, the VA’s medical foster home coordinator. “On all levels. ... She takes so much pride in the quality of care she provides to these veterans — a tremendous amount of pride.”

Clutter’s assessment: “She’s good, very good.”

• • •

In short, the program gives veterans an option to a nursing home or assisted living center. But the key word is “medical,” when talking about the medical foster home program.

Not only do Clutter and Swing have Angle as a constant caregiver, the men possess a medical support team from the VA behind them, including nurse practitioner Rebecca Noell, nurse Mark Thompson and another caregiver in Sue Cherry, who spells Angle when she needs a break.

The VA also provides, as needed, a dietician, social worker, psychologist and rehabilitation specialist.

“I believe a medical foster home extends life,” Todd says.

The daily conversations, the home setting and the opportunity to do things such as go to the store or join a family cookout are simply things nursing homes could not provide the veterans, Todd says.

But they are important. The men have flexibility in their daily routines, yet still have 24-hour supervision and care.

“This is home,” Clutter says without hesitation.

For veterans with high anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder, the medical foster homes seem to work better than overstimulating institutional settings, Todd says, adding, “The home is calmer.”

So far five places have been qualified as medical foster homes in the Hefner VA Medical Center’s catchment area. They include two in Salisbury and one each in Charlotte, Mint Hill and Matthews. Of those, three have placements, but Angle’s home is the only one for now with two veterans.

• • •

As a caregiver, Angle helps with the men’s medications, cooks them three meals a day, provides three snacks daily, helps them with dressing and bathing and sometimes drives them to appointments.

Beyond that are their normal interactions of living under the same roof, such as the time Swing told Loretta, as they were watching television, “That TV is going to go out.”

A former radio and television repairman in Lexington, Swing was right: Her television soon was on the blink.

“I’m just so glad they’re here with me,” Angle says.

Clutter and Swing pay Angle from their own funds — a monthly fee for the care, room and board. In each medical foster home, the veteran and caregiver agree on what the fee should be.

The veterans meet their potential caregivers and choose where they want to live.

Todd says the medical foster home is a more affordable option than nursing homes or assisted living centers.

• • •

Angle’s strong relationship with veterans probably started with her grandfather, an active 84-year-old Army veteran himself. Right out of high school, Angle worked 10 years for Bethamy Retirement Center in Spencer, where she formed special attachments to veterans who were residents.

“I get along with them — I know how to handle them,” says Angle, who gets a nod in agreement from Clutter and, later, a “You’re the boss” from Swing.

Corey, her husband of two years, also works for a Community Residential Care facility connected to the VA.

Meanwhile, Loretta earned various nursing and medical assistant certifications, most recently becoming a licensed practical nurse.

While she was attending a VA program with Corey one day, she perked up when Todd began talking about the medical foster home initiative. Loretta didn’t want to be involved in transitional or CRC housing for veterans. She wanted something a little more personal.

“I like to do my care face-to-face,” she says.

Caregivers have to be 21 and physically up to providing care. They must either own or rent a home and live in that home. They go through criminal background checks and are required to furnish at least three references.

The toughest part for Loretta Angle was a home inspection by the VA’s fire and safety officer and the medical foster home staff.

The Angles learned they would have to relocate an electrical box in their basement — that it was in the wrong place — and it meant moving to Loretta’s mother’s house for a week-and-a-half.

It also was a significant out-of-pocket expense for the Angles.

“That spoke volumes to me,” Todd said. “... They both demonstrated their commitment to veteran care.”

Medical foster homes are allowed to have up to three veterans. Loretta and Corey Angle plan to expand their house with a handicapped accessible bathroom and bedroom, so they can eventually be home for three veterans.

• • •

During World War II, Ralph Clutter served as a fuel lineman and truck driver for the Army in the European Theater, until he was sent back to the States because two of his brothers had been killed in the fighting.

Clutter worked on a pipeline before and after the war, but he says his real career was working with hospitals in patient care and as a psychiatric aide for 50 years — 30 years in Ohio and 20 years in Florida.

Clutter was married three times, but each wife died. He has a son in Kannapolis and was faced with living in a rest home until he signed up for the medical foster home program.

Angle takes Clutter to Great Clips for his haircuts. He has gone to Zumba class with her, and he’ll accompany Loretta to Marshall’s on Tuesdays, because that’s when a new shipment comes in.

In six months, Clutter has gained 8 pounds.

“We had to get new pants for him,” Loretta says. Clutter says he loves Loretta’s noodles and is a big fan of pizza, too.

Noell, the nurse practitioner, is the primary care provider for Clutter and Swing. For their general medical needs, she makes house calls. If they need to see a specialist, Angle will get them to the VA for their appointments.

In addition, Thompson visits the men at least monthly to see how they’re doing.

“Mark is Rebecca’s eyes and ears,” Todd explains.

It’s also important for Loretta to have a relief person, such as her close friend Cherry. “We recognize they have a life,” Todd says of the caregivers. “Nobody can do this without relief.”

• • •

Swing worked in electronics for the Navy during World War II, but he never left the states. He would still join the Navy today, Swing says.

“They may not take me though,” he adds.

After Vivian died, Swing was living by himself in his home in Welcome. Loretta Angle says he often refers to his Salisbury foster home as his vacation place and when he first arrived, he would ask Loretta, “Why do you keep shaving me?”

He still has the Lexington Dispatch delivered to his Salisbury home daily so he can keep up with the news in Davidson County.

“I’m looking in the paper to see if I died yet,” he says, joking with Loretta.

Leaving a place where you’ve spent most of your life is never easy — and the same was true for Swing. But he needed the kind of care the medical foster home could provide.

It probably saved his life the first night he was in the Angles’ home.

While the house was asleep, Loretta and Corey’s dog, Precious, woke the couple up with barking and growling, bothered by what was going on in Swing’s room.

He was having a heart attack, and Rowan County Emergency Medical Service was called and transported Swing to the hospital in time.

Had he still been living alone in Welcome, Loretta says, Swing would have died.

Thanks to the medical foster home, that’s one obituary he didn’t have to read.

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or

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