National Family Caregivers Month: Insight on Military Caregivers

Posted in Uncategorized on December 1, 2017

For the last two decades, every November has been recognized as National Family Caregivers Month, a time intended to raise awareness of caregiver issues, celebrate the efforts of caregivers, educate family caregivers on self-identification and increase support for family caregivers.National Family Caregivers Month: Insight on Military Caregivers

Sponsored by the Caregiver Action Network, the 2017 theme for the month-long focus is "Caregiving Around the Clock," recognizing the fact that caregiving for a family member can be a non-stop job, with caregivers balancing the daily emergencies, medications, routines, personal care and professional work seven days a week.

National Family Caregivers Month

Recently, more light is being shed on an emerging group of caregivers whose numbers are growing steadily: military caregivers.

Also known as America’s “Hidden Heroes,” more than 5.5 million Americans spend a significant amount of their time helping an aging or wounded veteran experience a better quality of life, recover from an injury or treatment or deal with life-changing, service-related wounds – both mental and physical.

To specifically address the needs and special concerns of this group of caregivers, the Elizabeth Dole Foundation was established in 2012, with the goal of working with leaders to recognize military caregivers’ service and promote their well-being. Founded and helmed by Senator Elizabeth Dole – herself a military caregiver to her husband, Senator Bob Dole, during an extended stay at Walter Reed Hospital – the organization works to champion policy, drive research and lead collaborations that can improve caregivers’ and veterans’ lives.

Insight on Military Caregivers

As a part of these efforts, the Foundation recently sponsored the largest and most comprehensive probability-based survey to date of military caregivers, surveying 41,163 households and yielding interesting new insights into the challenges, demographics and needs of military caregivers. Specifically, the report highlighted the distinct differences between caregivers caring for veterans who served before or after September 11, 2001.

For example:

  1. Approximately 80% of military caregivers care for pre-9/11 veterans, and face the typical challenges of caring for an aging loved one, such as dealing with dementia, helping with activities of daily living (ADLs), attending doctor appointments, managing medications and providing long-term care in the face of declining health. While more research is emerging on the occurrence of delayed PTSD symptoms in older veterans – known as Late-Onset Stress Symptomatology  – military caregivers for older veterans tend to focus mostly on caring for the physical daily needs of their loved ones, not too different from civilian care recipients.
  2. For the remaining 20% of military caregivers caring for post-9/11 veterans, however, their experience is quite different. Statistically, they are more likely to be caring for younger veterans and dealing with issues related to avoiding triggers, brain injuries, managing stress, treating substance abuse issues and behavioral or emotional changes. Additionally, these post-9/11 military caregivers are more likely to be younger themselves (more than 40% are between the ages of 18-30), more likely to be veterans themselves and be employed full-time. They are more likely to not be connected to a personal support network, thereby more likely to lean on structured caregiver support services and resources.

Other important results emerging from the report include:

  • Military caregivers consistently experience worse health outcomes, greater strains in family relationships and more workplace problems than non-caregivers, and post-9/11 military caregivers fare the worst in these areas.
  • The need for long-term planning guidance is more pronounced for post-9/11 military caregivers, who are younger and may be still relying on aging parents or be in new marriages. Critical aspects of planning include financial, legal, residential and vocational/educational planning.
  • Post-9/11 caregiver duties can be estimated as worth close to $3 billion and the costs of lost productivity among post-9/11 caregivers are $5.9 billion.

Learning more about military caregivers, especially the growing group of younger caregivers who have a much longer road of caregiving ahead of them, is an important step in understanding how the veteran population as a whole can be better supported.

Many veteran advocacy groups are currently working to improve government-supported programs – like the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Caregivers Program – to make them more consistent and easy to navigate for military caregivers. These groups propose that proactively helping post-9/11 military caregivers take better care of their veterans and themselves is actually a more affordable and healthier option than eventually caring for these veterans in government or private care homes.

Learn more about resources and support for military caregivers, or explore the VA benefits that post-9/11 military caregivers shouldn’t miss.

Written by Megan Hammons

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