AMES, Iowa – Many military service members and veterans with physical and mental illnesses and injuries receive care and support from family and friends. These caregivers help those they care for have better quality of life. Yet playing this role can impose a substantial physical, emotional and financial toll on caregivers.
Those who provide care for service members and veterans are hidden heroes, said Malisa Rader, a human sciences specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. Veterans suffer more frequently from traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, diabetes, and paralysis or spinal cord injury. The caregivers of service members and veterans sacrifice their livelihoods, health and wellbeing as they support care receivers through panic attacks and chronic mental and physical conditions and help them navigate the health care system. They also save the United States $14 billion each year as voluntary labor.
“These caregivers play an essential role in caring for injured or wounded service members and veterans. This enables those for whom they are caring to live better quality lives and can result in improved rehabilitation and recovery, but the toll on their own wellbeing can be high,” said Rader, who specializes in family wellbeing.
ISU Extension and Outreach is offering a telehealth course titled “Powerful Tools for Caregivers of Military Members and Veterans” starting Oct. 5 at 6:30 p.m. This educational offering provides information, support strategies, communication techniques, stress reduction ideas and resources to assist family caregivers of veterans and military personnel with their concerns related to caregiving. The course will be led by certified class leaders, most with military experience. To register or find more information, visit https://go.iastate.edu/D7RK6N or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Elizabeth Dole Foundation commissioned the first national comprehensive study of military caregivers. During that research, the RAND corporation noted there are 5.5 million caregivers for former or current military personnel in the United States, 1.1 million of whom are caring for military veterans who served after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. There are unique circumstances surrounding military caregivers, particularly those caring for younger individuals who served in Iraq or Afghanistan:
- Post-9/11 caregivers tend to be younger and juggle work with caregiving duties. Most have no support network.
- They are four times more likely than non-caregivers to be depressed.
- One-third of post-9/11 caregivers are without health insurance.
- They typically help their military care receivers cope with stressful situations or other emotional and behavioral challenges.
In addition, their caregiving journey starts earlier in life (85% are under 40) and lasts longer, according to Caregiving in the U.S. 2020, a report by AARP and the National Alliance on Caregiving.
Data from Caregivers of Veterans: Serving on the Home Front, commissioned by National Alliance for Caregiving and United Health Foundation, showed the following:
- 96% of caregivers of veterans are female.
- 70% provide care to their spouse or partner.
- 30% of veterans’ caregivers care for a duration of 10 years or more as compared to 15% of caregivers nationally.
- 88% report increased stress or anxiety as a result of caregiving.
- 77% state sleep deprivation as an issue.
“Remember, you cannot pour from an empty cup,” Rader said. “The end result can be poor health, mental distress and less life satisfaction for the caregiver. When the caregiver suffers, veterans suffer along with their families and communities.”
Powerful Tools for Caregivers can help military and veteran caregivers get the tools and resources they need to take care of themselves and their loved ones, Rader said.
Photo credit: Chaay_tee/stock.adobe.com