A focus on helping veterans

Bonnie Laiderman (right) is shown with client Elsa Moorehead at a recent celebration. Elsa, the surviving spouse of a veteran, has been a Veterans Home Care client for more than six years.

By David Baugher, Special to the Jewish Light

One need only look at the letters on the wall to know that there is more than simply a successful business model at the heart of Veterans Home Care.

“Thanks for all your assistance,” reads a handwritten note. “We are very happy to be able to keep mom at home with her children.”

“Caring for my brother long distance is a challenge but knowing you are there is immensely comforting,” reads a typewritten letter. “Thank you for everything you do.”

“Your help in his care giving is a godsend and my heart is so relieved for my dad to have this during his last time here,” reads a printed email. “Even his pulmonary therapist told me today, he looks, acts and seems so much better…”

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Words like these would touch anyone but for Bonnie Laiderman, they have an even deeper significance. She’s been where the authors are.

Just a few years ago, she was the one seeking help to take care of her mother who was ailing from breast cancer. Laiderman made a monthly trip down to Florida to shop, cook meals and prep her mother for chemotherapy. Professional home care would have been the perfect answer but it was out of the family’s price range. Fortunately, Laiderman discovered that the Department of Veterans Affairs offered a program that would reimburse for the service. Unfortunately, it was information that came too late to help Laiderman’s terminally ill parent. She passed away in late 2002.

“She never got to use this program and it really frustrated me,” said Laiderman, now 65. “It made me so upset because she could have had a better quality to her life. I made my mom a promise before she died that I was going to help other people get this program.”

In less than eight year’s time, Laiderman’s promise has blossomed into an organization of more than 70 employees and 10 locations including its 10,000-square-foot St. Louis headquarters. More than 3,500 clients have benefitted from Veterans Home Care whose offices or affiliates are represented in 36 states. It’s all part of an enterprise Inc. magazine named to its 2010 list of the 5,000 fastest-growing businesses in the country. (Laiderman’s venture finished 1,624th overall – up from 2,202nd last year – and 12th in Missouri with $9.7 million in revenue.) The Chesterfield resident sees it as the mission of the company to help veterans and care giving family members cut through the layers of government red tape and access the VA’s reimbursement system. Laiderman’s organization also fronts money for care until reimbursement arrives which can take months. No interest is charged on the loan.

Laiderman said the most challenging part of the job is the follow up.

“It’s not only just getting the funds started,” she said. “It’s keeping them in compliance because the VA wants to know what they are doing with the money and at the end of the year they get an evaluation report from the VA and we do that for them too. That client is my client for the rest of their life.”

The idea is to ensure patients remain at home where they can enjoy life outside of a skilled care facility.

“That’s the whole purpose. My mom made me promise her every day of her life that I would not put her in a nursing home,” Laiderman said. “It was so embedded in my brain that I don’t think anybody should go to a nursing home. I think everybody should have that opportunity to stay.”

Margie Hartman, a VA-accredited attorney, is general counsel of the organization. She said she enjoys being a part of helping those who have served their country.

“The great thing about working here is you hear the stories of the people,” said Hartman, who attends services at Central Reform Congregation. “You talk to the caseworkers who are on the phone daily with our clients and their families. We’re hearing stories every day about what a difference we can make in their lives.”

Making a difference is important to Laiderman, too. A congregant at United Hebrew, the Brooklyn, N.Y. native said her faith played a strong role in formulating her worldview early on.

“We were a very poor family and my father taught me always to care about other people,” she said. “That’s Judaism. I don’t know if that’s earth-shattering but that’s the truth.”

For Laiderman, family isn’t just why she founded Veterans Home Care. It’s also a part of the business itself. Her husband Howard is vice-president and her daughter Marcy Seeney is national marketing director.

“We help families that are truly in need of home care and cannot afford it,” said Seeney. “We help lots of families stay in their homes as opposed to going to nursing homes and to stay comfortable with their loved ones.”