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Supporting Caregivers

What About Supporting Caregivers of Warfighters?

This is a topic I have talked about on many occasions, but most people do not want to hear about the issues families are dealing with. This is a very real issue mainly because the spouse or another family member is immediately thrown into the position of becoming a caregiver for a veteran who is either dealing with a physical or mental injury. There is no training for a loved one to become a caregiver, there are very few support programs and again, like I say often, we are facing more broken issues and a lack of support.

While there are some statistics on the number of family members, the best resources I have ever come across are from the Family Caregiver Alliance and Blue Star Families. If you ever have some extra time, look at these sites and all the different issues that surround the families of a warfighter. While they both highlight several known issues, there is still a strong lack of statistics on spouse/caregiver drug and alcohol abuse and spouse suicide. Yes even the task of caring for a warfighter can lead to a state of depression and eventually suicide, but our society does not want to acknowledge it, let alone talk about it.

So what are the numbers? Since September 11, 2001, we have had a large increase in family members becoming caregivers. According to a recent report by the Family Caregiver Alliance, there are more than 1.1 million caregivers caring for former or current military personnel in the U.S. (post 9/11). The majority of these caregivers are female, and lack any support network.

There are currently more than 5.5 million caregivers caring for a veteran since the majority of our World War Two, Korean and Vietnam veterans are getting up there in age. Our newest generation of caregivers are much younger. Some of the issues they are facing include Post Traumatic Stress (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI). They see the daily struggles our warfighters are facing when dealing with VA medical and mental health care, benefits and employment.

Around 2010, the VA started a new program designed to assist these family members who had taken on the role of a caregiver for their warfighter with TBI. This program allowed a spouse/family member to care for a veteran while receiving a monthly stipend (income) and health insurance. While the monthly pay varied by the overall needs of the warfighter, it allowed a spouse/family member to stay home without the risk of going into debt. In 2015, the VA changed the requirements for the program that removed a large number of families out of the program, and I am sure (without any surveys) that this created a great burden on many warfighters and families. Again, another failed program by the VA. I am sure this was the final straw for a family somewhere that ended in a divorce, homelessness or suicide.

So how do we, as a nation, correct this issue? There are several ways this can be addressed. I do not believe that there are going to be any major changes within the federally funding programs that will address the problems for the better. What really needs to happen is an drastic increase in training programs and respite programs for caregivers who are taking care of our warfighters.

While Veterans at Sea has many wonderful programs, our staff has created and tested with great success, but we are currently do not have the funding to launch and maintain these programs. Until other organizations start to step up and address the issues within the caregiver community, we will never see a change. It took years for the nation to even recognize the large number of veteran suicides. Again, this is not an issue that will be fixed overnight.