For the past four years, an Indiana family has been fostering disabled veterans, opening their hearts and home to those who need a family.
Troy and Sarah Rufing, from Greenville, Indiana, are a foster family with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Foster Home Program.
For veterans who don’t want to move into a nursing home, or can’t afford to pay for one, moving in with a foster family can be a life-saving alternative.
Troy and Sarah have a busy schedule managing their farm and homeschooling their six kids, Hannah, 14, Matthew, 11, Sophie, 10, Sam, 7, Catherine, 5, and Clover, 3.
After watching Troy’s mother, Ruth, foster veterans in her home since 2003, Troy, 44, and Sarah, 41, were inspired to do the same.
Troy added a 3-bedroom wing to their home, and he and Sarah committed to working as full-time caretakers of the veterans who would become like family.
Currently, Army Sgt. William Sutton, 53, Sgt. Charles Hughes, 87, and Army Cpl. Robert Schellenberg, 89, live with the Rufing family.
The transition was hard on everyone at first, but today, everyone is flourishing as one big family.
“Veterans living in this type of setting tend to thrive and often have fewer hospitalizations than those who are living alone or in institutional care,” VA program coordinator Lori Paris told PEOPLE.
“This environment really enriches the lives of both the veterans and the remarkable caregivers who accept these veterans into their homes.”
On average, foster families receive an average of $2,400 a month per veteran. This arrangement affords Troy and Sarah the opportunity to devote their days to caring for their veteran’s physical and medical needs 24/7.
“It’s like having your grandparents live with you,” Sarah said. “We’re one big family.”
“They take care of us,” Hughes said. “They’re all just so sweet and nice.”
Sutton moved in with the family in 2015. He had lost both legs to complications from diabetes, and was in poor spirits when he first moved in.
At first, “he was closed off and didn’t really leave his room,” Sarah said. “But today he’s walking — and not slowing down. Every day he takes a 10-minute walk to the mailbox and says that ‘this place has really become home.’”
The Rufing children have also benefited from the arrangement, learning how to serve and love others in a way that most kids don’t experience.
“I’ve learned to be very patient,” Hannah said. “It’s given me perspective a lot of people my age don’t have. They’re like our blood relatives.”
The family hangs out together, eating meals, watching football and making sure everyone is safe, comfortable and loved.
“It’s a family, and veterans feel like they’re at home, like they belong somewhere,” Troy said.
“We feel like we were meant to do this. And we plan to help for as long as we possibly can.”
Sarah says the day-to-day feeding and caring of chronically ill and disabled veterans can be exhausting, but it is worth the work.
“You have to open your home and open your heart to those veterans,” she said. “It’s a sacrifice. It’s service. But they deserve it.”
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