When people spend a significant portion of their adult years living a certain lifestyle, it’s no surprise they’d want to spend their twilight years in a community with those who have had similar life experiences. That’s the main thought behind the nation’s many military retirement communities.
The military senior living niche is generally concentrated in a few geographic locations by military bases, and if a pamphlet published by the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) is any indication, there are quite a few. Each year, roughly 70 communities advertise with MOAA for inclusion in the organization’s annual retirement edition, representing the majority—but not all—of such communities.
There’s more than one kind of military retirement community. Some are exclusively for retired “career” military personnel who have spent at least 20 years serving the nation, while others are open to “enlisted” military retirees who have spent some amount of time in the military, even they didn’t reach career status.
In some of those communities, retired government workers or civil servants are also eligible for residency.
Air Force Village West, a continuing care retirement community (CCRC) located adjacent to the March Air Reserve Base in Riverside, Calif., opened its doors last year to former teachers, law enforcement officers, and firefighters, in addition to retired military personnel.
“We made a decision last year to expand eligibility criteria,” says president and CEO Brig. Gen. James L. Melin, USAFR Ret. “The number one criteria [for eligible residents] was people who understand and believe that you serve other people before you worry about serving yourself.”
What makes these communities different from “mainstream” ones isn’t usually reflected in the types of accommodations and services provided, though.
“Our services aren’t distinct from mainstream communities, [but] it’s a unique affinity group here,” explains Abby Weiner, director of marketing and admissions at The Army Distaff Foundation and Knollwood, a CCRC in Washington, D.C. “The military camaraderie and environment sets us apart.”
As a charitable organization, residency at Knollwood is never limited by financial resources for anyone with military eligibility, Weiner notes, but as a CCRC, it is a private pay model. However, those who qualify can apply for and use Veterans Administration’s Aid & Attendance benefits.
Many retired career military people are used to certain protocols and ways of doing things, and it makes them more comfortable to be in an environment that still respects that heritage, says David DeClark, director of marketing at Vinson Hall Retirement Community in McLean, Va.
“If you have been ‘career military,’ one of the difficult things, even aside from retiring, is that it’s a lifestyle that is not like a civilian lifestyle at all,” he says.
Some communities’ programming helps residents maintain certain elements of their former careers. Knollwood provides residents with transportation to the military medical center and the commissary, or other similar locations that are unique to those with military backgrounds.
The D.C. community also incorporates military lifestyle into its programming, bringing in the U.S. Army Chorus to perform or inviting guest speakers with military backgrounds for lectures.
Aside from activities, some military retirement communities offer specialized care for what may be higher concentrations of residents with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a result of wartime experiences.
The health services staff at AF Village West’s Special Care unit is trained to care for a full spectrum of psychological and emotional issues for residents, which could range from Alzheimer’s care to PTSD, says Melin.
While PTSD-related issues aren’t a new phenomenon for those who have experienced combat, the name and description for those emotional issues have changed over the years, he says.
“The good news for veterans that reside at a community like AF Village West is that not only does the staff understand and have helpful ways to deal with issues, but the neighbors and friends that live around them also understand the life experiences and impacts each resident is facing,” Melin says. “Having a community-support mechanism is a huge therapeutic benefit no matter where the veteran might be or which generation they represent.”
Occupancy rates range from the low 90s and up at Knollwood, AF Village West, and Vinson Hill in the higher acuity levels, and Vinson Hill has a waitlist. But the marketing directors for each said they believe demand, while there, isn’t outweighing supply. That may change, however, along with the nation’s aging population.
“Right now, the need’s being met,” says DeClark, “but as the world changes, in 10 years that could be a different story.”
Written by Alyssa Gerace
This article is sponsored by the Assisted Living Federation of America (ALFA) as part of its efforts to advance excellence and explore topics impacting the future of senior living. For more information about ALFA, visit www.alfa.org.