Imagine being weeks away from the return of a deployed spouse, dizzy with excitement over doing all of the things you’ve missed. Quiet moments, flag football before turkey and pumpkin pie; holiday parties with friends, and finally taking that ski vacation.
Then one phone call changes everything.
Family caregivers are rarely prepared for what’s ahead when a loved one returns wounded, ill or permanently injured from military service. An estimated 5.5 million people in the U.S. are providing informal care for military veterans with disabling injuries or illnesses according to RAND Corporation research.
Joy-filled plans for the future are replaced by fear of the unknown, financial uncertainty, and significant physical and emotional demands as novice caregivers are flooded with military medical jargon; trying to absorb a new reality. This may include leaving a job and relocating near a facility better equipped to support their loved one. For some, this may take weeks or months. For others, it may become a lifelong commitment.
For caregivers immersed in a world focused around daily care of another, they often neglect self-care and develop depression and chronic illness. The holidays are a time when they and the one they care for are more susceptible to depression, grief and even suicide. Many caregivers don’t know where to look for support and are often unaware of military benefits and resources.
The Department of Veterans Affairs offers a variety of programs and benefits for military caregivers. A good place to start is to download the Department of Defense (DOD) Caregiver Resource Directory and to visit www.caregiver.va.gov for more information.
Additional resources for military caregivers include but are not limited to: