Military caregivers face lifelong battles with few resources

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They are the “hidden heroes” ––1.1 million parents, spouses and friends serving as caregivers for post-9/11 military veterans.

They are overwhelmed, under-trained and mostly unsupported in their unexpected lifelong roles as caregivers.

The RAND Corporation, a nonprofit research institution, just released the largest-ever study of military caregivers and found that those taking care of veterans who served after 9/11 are younger, usually employed outside the home and are more likely to care for someone who has a behavioral health problem.

“The RAND study of Americans who provide care to military members injured or disabled while serving since 9/11, is startling as it details the societal crisis facing families and communities,” said the Rev. Bruce Fenner, director of extension ministry and pastoral care at the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry.   

The study points out there are programs to support veterans but few resources are provided for their caregivers, he added.

“Many of us are familiar with heartwarming stories of caregivers and their laudable dedication, but we rarely think about the significant cumulative stress outcomes and financial strains accompanying such care and devotion.  As the RAND study points out, caregivers are routinely an afterthought as programs typically target support for veterans.”

The Rev. Myron Wingfield, an executive at the higher education and ministry board, said the report reminded him of a couple he knows who are caring for a wounded son.

“I was struck as I listened to a father tell of the extraordinary measures he and his wife have undertaken to care for their wounded and recovering son.  He will never recover fully — his wounds were too severe — but I could see where he had acquired a soldier’s courage and resolve. 

“His parents were uncommon in their abilities to care but, now into their second year of providing round-the-clock primary care, the father and mother are coming to terms with the fact that they cannot sustain the effort without additional assistance. Their only time alone with each other is one date night a week. The whole story was a reminder of the network of wounds created by soldier’s wounds.”

The RAND researchers said those caring for wounded veterans provide an estimated $3 billion in care annually and save the nation substantial sums in avoided long-term care costs. Yet this study, commissioned by the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, points out very little help is being offered to these caregivers.

Researchers surveyed a representative sample of more than 1,100 military caregivers and compared their experiences to both civilian caregivers and non-caregivers.

In addition, researchers searched for public and private programs that either directly or indirectly aid military caregivers, such as efforts that provide respite care or care-giving training. This effort included interviews with 82 organizations to understand the history, funding and objectives of such programs.

Post-9/11 caregivers are spending more than 40 hours per week providing care with 8 percent spending more than eight hours a day, according to the study. They also experience worse health outcomes, strains in family relationships and more workplace problems.

“Local United Methodist congregations have a vital mission to provide respite care for military care givers in their congregations as well as the military care givers in their communities,” said Tom Carter, director of endorsement, for the United Methodist Endorsing Agency.

“This study awakens us to the need.  What is our response?” asks Fenner.

Gilbert is a multimedia reporter for United Methodist News Service. Contact her at (615)742-5470 or [email protected].

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