An 81-Year-Old Foster Son?

Charles Dowling served in Korea and Vietnam

Just outside Tampa, Fla., CBS News correspondent Steve Hartman found the story of an odd couple - a wonderful inspiring odd couple.

The house actually belongs to a sweetheart of a man named Rick Heady. Rick is a foster parent, of sorts - his foster "kid" just happens to be 81, and gruff as all get-out.

"What did you do in the Marine Corps?" Hartman asked.

"Kill people," Charles Dowling said.

"But you survived to live another day," Hartman said.

"To kill again," Dowling said.

"Well you're a lovely, lovely man," Hartman said, laughing.

"Bulls-t," Dowling said.

He actually is pretty wonderful, once you get to know him. Dowling served in Korea and Vietnam, and later became a drill sergeant - putting in close to 30 years with the Marines. Until recently he was living in a nursing home - destined for hospice - but then this total stranger came forward and offered to take him in.

"I'm not going to let our veterans, our veterans, be forgotten," Heady said.

That's a belief shared by all these people who are part of a new Veteran's Affairs program called the Medical Foster Home program. It pairs vets who would otherwise be in a nursing home with civilians who are willing to take them into their homes instead.

Information about the VA Medical Foster Home Program

"It takes a special caregiver who is really able to open their homes and their hearts to the veterans and it's not easy," said Beau Williams with Veterans Affairs.

Williams said medical foster homes are now in 34 states and within a few years could be in all 50. It's partly because nursing homes average about $6,000 a month, while this only costs about half that. The money goes to caregivers like Heady, who quit his job as a sales manager to do this.

"Not only is it cost effective but more importantly the veterans feel like their part of a family, they receive love," Williams said. "They receive a lot of attention, a lot of care."

As for what the care giver gets out of it - let's just say Heady has found the experience so rewarding he recently took in a second veteran.

"He's helped me vastly in recovery," said Clayton Smith.

Smith was in the Air Force when he got hit by a truck and suffered a brain injury. They were going to put him in a nursing home, too, until Heady stepped up.

"Rick is A-OK," Smith said.

That's glowing praise from a drill sergeant - and more than enough reward for Rick.

"This is what I'll do until the day I retire," Heady said. "It's that good."

Good for him, and good for America.

  • Steve Hartman
    Steve Hartman

    Steve Hartman has been a CBS News correspondent since 1998, having served as a part-time correspondent for the previous two years.