Life After Serving
Armed Forces Retirement Home Cares for Veterans
In 1811, facing a generation of aging Revolutionary War veterans, the nation made a promise. It promised to care for them, seeing to their medical needs. It fulfilled that promise with first the U.S. Naval Asylum in Philadelphia in 1834, then the U.S. Military Asylum in Washington, D.C., in 1851.
In the 1800s, both asylums were self-sufficient, and tenants were expected to work and pitch in with the daily needs of the farms that supplied all of their needs. Throughout the 1900s, and especially after World War II, the focus shifted to leisure and recreational activities, allowing our retired veterans to relax and enjoy the later years of their lives.
In 1991, the "Old Sailors Home" and "Old Soldiers Home" merged together to form the Armed Forces Retirement Home (AFRH), giving our nation's veterans the chance to retire in comfort, either in Washington or Gulfport, Mississippi. This opportunity is, in large part, thanks to current service members.
Each Airman, Coast Guardsman, Marine, Sailor and Soldier plays a crucial role in giving back to America's military veterans, allowing them to live at AFRH in comfort and peace of mind. Each month, every enlisted service member gives a mere 50 cents, taken as an allotment, to the home to enrich the golden years of the nation's veterans.
"[The 50 cents a month] has been around a long time. That helps finance this home. We have a huge facility. We have doctors on board, a bowling alley - the list goes on and on," said Ken Faller, a retired senior chief engineman. "It's like the perfect duty station."
That duty station offers the service veterans much to do and learn, with painting, woodworking, sculpting, history, culture and music, to name a few activities. No matter a veteran's interest, AFRH will assist in making it happen. The campus boasts recreational facilities, social areas, a cantina, a beauty salon, a campus exchange and a hobby shop, so there is more than enough to keep residents interested, busy and engaged. There is also an off-campus shuttle service, or, if veterans prefer to drive, there are spaces to park their vehicles so they can leave at their leisure.
"A lot of things we do is travel, we go to submarine conventions and parties, sightseeing - we keep busy" said Jim Hunnicutt, a retired master chief yeoman. "One of the best things about living here is you don't have to cook your own breakfast. If you get hungry at three o'clock in the morning, you can go down and get a bowl of cereal or a doughnut."
The dining facility also offers three home-style meals a day that are prepared by licensed nutritionists, as well as special food for diabetics. On-site medical staff handle general health, dental and optometry needs, and with general service staff available for cleaning and security, the retirees can feel safe and sound. Their rooms are approximately 450 square feet and include a private bathroom, a bed and armoire. Personal furnishings are allowed, as well as cable and internet, at veterans' own cost.
To reside at the AFRH, there are a few requirements. Only prior enlisted are eligible. They must be 60 years old and have been discharged under honorable conditions with 20 or more years of active service. Service length may be waived for those determined to be disabled due to a service-connected injury received in the line of duty and for those who served in a time of war as declared by Congress or who were eligible for hostile fire special pay. Veterans can apply with their spouses, but spouses must also meet the admission criteria. (Full requirements are available on the AFRH website, under the apply tab.)
The home is also a good place for veterans who are looking for friendship and to keep busy, residents explained.
"The place is perfect for a guy who's been married and who, God forbid, he's widowed," said Faller. "If you're aware of it, and you become 60 years old, you never know what's going to happen to your family. All of a sudden, they're by themselves. Instead of that, they can come here and have comradery."
With various levels of care, the AFRH is also, veterans said, a way to plan for the future and any unexpected health concerns. Although veterans must be able to live independently upon admission, the care levels accommodate those who go on to need assisted care and support with some daily tasks, as well as disabled, injured or infirm veterans who require full, long-term nursing care. In addition, a memory support facility helps residents who suffer from memory problems, dementia or Alzheimer's disease perform daily functions and retain cognitive skills.
Some of the veterans' ailments may be service connected, of course. In fact, the years some of the tenants have put into the service of our country is staggering. From World War II and the Korean War to Vietnam and Desert Storm, these past service members can recount times, places and battles those in uniform today can only imagine.
The Armed Forces Retirement Home is a small measure of thanks for that service. Either a short stroll from the beach in Gulfport, or close to the city in D.C., AFRH is a place for those who have defended our country to relax and enjoy their remaining years with fellow service members, share stories of times past and enjoy new experiences with new friends.
"I think a military career is a wonderful start for a man's life. I volunteered in July of 1940 and I stayed in until July of 1970," said Donald Egolf, a retired Army sergeant first class. "They take outstanding care of us here, they really do - twenty-hour hours a day if I need it. Physically, I feel good, aside from the usual aches and pain of a guy who's 97 years old. Seven years ago, I put my application in and they accepted me right away and I have not regretted it at any time."
Editor's note: To learn more about the Armed Forces Retirement Home, visit www.afrh.gov.