The four main trade associations representing senior living providers held a grassroots “Day of Action” on Wednesday to urge lawmakers to support a bill expanding veterans’ access to assisted living.

Jeanne McGlynn Delgado, American Seniors Housing Association vice president of government affairs, told McKnight’s Senior Living that ASHA — along with Argentum, the National Center for Assisted Living and LeadingAge — initiated the effort to try to generate as many calls and letters as possible from industry professionals into congressional offices on one day. Their message was to urge inclusion of the Expanding Veterans Options for Long Term Care Act (S 4169 / HR 8750) into any year-end omnibus package.

The four associations also sent a joint letter to House and Senate leaders of various Veterans Affairs committees, as well as bill sponsors, to reinforce their desire for passage of the bill during the lame duck legislative session.

The bill would create a small pilot program to offer eligible veterans who participate the option to have their care needs met in an assisted living community instead of at a Department of Veterans Affairs state home.

According to the associations, the program would save money due to the cost of care in assisted living ($51,600 annually, on average, they said) being half of that of a VA nursing home ($120,701 annually). 

“It is time to give our veterans fresh options for their long-term care,” Argentum President and CEO James Balda said. “Argentum sees these two pieces of legislation as the start to making it easier for veterans to explore senior living communities as potential homes, and urge lawmakers to get behind the effort.”

Approximately 5% of veterans living in community nursing homes do not require daily skilled nursing care, according to a report to Congress from the VA and the Veterans Health Administration on the needs for long-term services and supports. That report, therefore, projected a potential savings of $69,101 per placement per year.

According to the VA, the number of veterans aged 85 or more years eligible for nursing home care will increase 535% over the next 20 years, from 61,000 to 387,000. The associations further stated that the number of older adults needing long-term care is expected to rise from 6.3 million in 2015 to 15 million by 2050. At the same time, the number of unpaid family caregivers available to care for them is expected to decline, they noted.

“As a country, we must prepare for this demand for long-term care and ensure that seniors have options for quality settings such as assisted living that are also cost effective,” the letter reads. 

In their letter, the associations held up the pilot project as a model to inform future program development to meet the growing needs of aging adults, including veterans, in environments that promote independence and well-being.

In June, the coalition of associations had sent a joint letter to Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester (D-MT), ranking member Jerry Moran (R-KS) and Sen. Patty Murry (D-WA) calling the pilot program a “common sense approach” that would provide greater options and opportunities to veterans accessing long-term supportive services. The legislators had introduced the Expanding Veterans Options for Long Term Care Act a week earlier.