This past year, veteran and military caregivers have taken on more responsibilities along with increased isolation, stress, and anxiety. Caregiver support systems are starting to reopen, but these hidden heroes are still dealing with the strain brought on by the extra challenges. Amy Goyer from AARP and Kathy Roth-Douquet from Blue Star Families share five free resources that support veteran caregivers in self-care, making connections, managing finances, in-home and distance caregiving, and work-life balance.
Across the country, more than 5.5 million caregivers deliver voluntary, uncompensated care every day for America’s wounded, ill, or injured veterans and military service members.
During the course of the pandemic, many of these veteran and military caregivers have taken on more responsibilities along with increased isolation, stress, and anxiety due to a lack of in-home help or adult day services and community centers.
Although support systems are starting to reopen, these hidden heroes are still dealing with the mental strain brought on by the challenges of last year.
As veteran and military caregivers, we struggle to meet the needs of our veterans and active duty service members in addition to work and other family responsibilities.
All of this while dealing with limited caregiver supports and the extra challenges of the pandemic gets overwhelming.
Self-care continues to move further down the list and the risk of burnout soars. It’s hard for us to ask for help.
We feel like we should be able to manage, and often our loved ones want only us to provide care.
With the pandemic, many of us are nervous about bringing care providers into our homes.
Even when we do seek help, it’s frequently difficult to find qualified, affordable and reliable caregiving assistance.
Too often, we just keep going without adequate support, leading to burnout and problems with our own health.
People often refer to us as “hidden heroes” because we are fighting behind the scenes to support our veterans and military service members.
But so many of us desperately need a little assistance in order to persevere with our caregiving responsibilities. We may not want to be in the spotlight, but we do need support.
Fortunately, AARP has many free resources to support us as we care, covering five key areas: self-care, making connections, managing finances, in-home and distance caregiving, and work-life balance.
1. Support for self-care
According to Caregiving in the U.S. 2020, 1 in 4 veteran and military caregivers say they have trouble managing stress and taking care of themselves.
Nearly 40% say providing care causes high emotional strain.
Helpful resources include:
- Steps for Coping with Stress: Highlights the warning signs of caregiver burnout and provides tips to reduce caregiver stress.
- AARP’s Mental Health Center: A mental health resource page with advice and guidance.
2. Support for making connections
We often struggle with isolation, as our world naturally gets smaller to focus on care for our loved ones, which can be detrimental to both our physical and mental health.
Getting together with friends or attending caregiver support groups can be very helpful, but there are also options that caregivers can participate in remotely, including:
- AARP Family Caregivers Discussion Group: A place to connect, share practical tips, offer support and discuss family caregiving experiences with other caregivers.
- AARP Friendly Voice: Created to combat isolation, caregivers can sign up for friendly calls from trained volunteers for themselves and/or their loved ones.
3. Support for managing finances
The financial challenges of caregiving are all too often invisible or ignored.
On average, we spend more than $7,000 of our personal income on the out-of-pocket costs of caregiving each year.
I (Amy) can tell you that in caring for my Dad (a veteran of WWII and the Korean War) for more than a decade, I spent multiple times that amount.
It adds up over the long haul and led me to financial devastation, despite efforts to garner all the supports he was eligible for..
According to research from Blue Star Families, 14% of active-duty caregiving families and 7% of veteran caregiving families said they required immediate financial assistance for medical and dental bills.
This was a top five expense for veteran and military caregivers compared to non-caregiving families.
AARP has responded with targeted resources, including:
- AARP Financial Workbook for Veteran and Military Family Caregivers: New in 2021 to help veteran and military caregivers with the financial challenges magnified by the pandemic.
- Can I get Paid to Care for a Family Member?: Outlines the ways family caregivers may be able to be paid to care for loved ones, including potential support from Veterans Affairs.
4. Support for in-home and distance caregivers
Most of us care for loved ones at home, but due to the pandemic many caregivers have cut back or completely canceled vital in-home services like paid caregivers and home health aides.
And many adult day services and community centers are still closed or operating on a scaled-back basis, limiting days and number of participants.
These resources can help caregivers plan and connect with local services and supports:
- AARP Community Connections: Created in response to the pandemic, Community Connections provides a listing of local mutual aid groups – neighbors helping neighbors.
- Military Caregiving Guide for Veterans, Service Members and Their Families: AARP and the Elizabeth Dole Foundation collaborated on this free resource, which helps you have critical conversations, create a caregiving plan, build your team, care for yourself and more, and includes checklists help you get organized.
- Protect Nursing Home Residents: For those caring for veterans living in facilities, AARP provides up-to-date information on all the issues facing nursing home residents today.
- Respite Relief Program for Military and Veteran Caregivers: Provides veteran and military caregivers with up to 24 hours of free, short-term respite care for their veterans or service members living at home so they can get a break.
5. Support for work-life balance
More than 6 in 10 veteran and military caregivers are also working paid jobs.
For some, our time is stretched even thinner as we try to keep our children on-task with e-learning.
Caring intensely for multiple people while working exacerbates our stress levels quickly.
AARP has resources to help you if you’re a working caregiver:
- Supporting Military and Veteran Caregivers in the Workplace: This toolkit provides guidance to help employers better understand the unique challenges facing caregivers in the workplace.
- Employer Support for Caregivers: This AARP site includes additional resources for employers, including tip sheets, toolkits and training opportunities.
- Caregiving While Working: AARP article outlining flexible work, leave and helpful services for working caregivers.
Recommended for you:
- The Ultimate Guide to Senior Veterans Benefits
- 11 Private Support Groups for Caregivers on Facebook
- How to Cope with Compassion Fatigue: 8 Tips for Caregivers
Kathy Roth-Douquet is the CEO and Co-Founder of Blue Star Families, an author, nonprofit leader, attorney, and former government official who is a lifelong advocate for the role of the military in civil society.
Amy Goyer is AARP’s family and caregiving expert and author of Juggling Life, Work and Caregiving. Connect with Amy on amygoyer.com, Facebook, Twitter, in AARP’s Online Community and in the AARP Facebook Family Caregivers Group.
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