Recognizing Our Nation’s Veterans — and Their Caregivers

Yesterday, November 10, 2010, the United Health Foundation released the results of the first-ever study to examine specific challenges faced by the thousands of caregivers sharing the stress and the joy of caring for our nation’s Veterans. On this Veteran’s Day, let’s honor both the noble men and women who have sacrificed their time, safety, and even their lives to protect us and the caring men and women devoted to caring for our Veterans as they age or struggle with post-combat injuries, disabilities, and diseases. U.S. Veterans

The study, Caregivers of Veterans — Serving on the Homefront, was conducted in collaboration with the National Alliance for Caregiving. A prior study, Caregiving in the U.S., revealed that 11% of caregivers of adults have served in the armed forces, and 17% of adult care recipients are Veterans. Given that the nation’s Veterans present with a unique set of caregiving challenges based on post-traumatic injuries, the United Health Foundation decided to delve deeper into the needs of this group.

The three-part study includes qualitative results from focus groups, phone surveys, and quantitative data from an online survey. Findings are useful for senior care providers, caregivers, organizations that serve Veterans and their families, and policymakers.  Veterans benefits can help ease financial strain and fill in care gaps by offering financial assistance for adult day care, assisted living, nursing homes, home health care, and other medical needs, yet many families still face a significant emotional, physical, and financial toll.

There are many valuable findings from this research, and some statistics contrast with research about the general caregiver population, indicating that this population is truly unique. For example, 96% of caregivers for Veterans are women, compared to just 65% for the general population. The majority of them (70%) are caring for a partner or spouse, while just 6% of caregivers in general care for a partner or spouse. Veterans receiving care are also typically younger than others who receive care from a loved one; 41% are between the ages of 18 and 54.

One important thing to note is that the youngest Veterans who are receiving care, Veterans from Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, are usually receiving care from their parents. As this group ages, their needs will be of particular concern, because as their own parents age, care will need to be transferred to someone else, and many of these Veterans have no one else they can rely on. This situation also leads to another potential problem — parents of Veterans in this situation who have no other children will also be in need of someone to care for them as they age.

Other key findings:

  • Caregivers of Veterans are faced with a heavier burden. 65% are in what is considered to be a high burden caregiving situation (a greater likelihood of requiring assistance with activities of daily living), compared with just 31% nationally.
  • Veterans requiring care have a higher incidence of mental illness. 70% report having depression or anxiety, and 60% have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
  • Caregiver strain is higher, due in part to greater care requirements:
    • 68% report high emotional stress (31% nationally)
    • 40% report high levels of physical strain (14% nationally)
    • Nearly half (47%) had to cease working or took early retirement (9% nationally)
    • Half report financial hardship (50%, 13% nationally)

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