Joining Forces and The Elizabeth Dole Foundation to Focus on Military Caregivers in 2014
Yesterday I learned some sobering statistics about military caregivers from Joining Forces. 5.5 million Americans are caring for ill or wounded service members and veterans. Of those 5.5 million, 1.1 million of those spouses, parents, and friends are providing care to a US veteran who served since 9/11. 40% of those post-9/11 caregivers are between the ages of 18-30. Eighteen to thirty years old.
For the third anniversary of the Joining Forces initiative, the White House hosted a call with bloggers to share information they've gathered over the past year and to share what they hope to accomplish in the coming year. While they've made great strides in the initiatives they undertook in employment and education last year, the biggest thing they plan to tackle comes under the Wellness heading for 2014. In 2013, the focus for Wellness was to make sure more service members and veterans had access to the care that they needed. This year the focus shifts to military caregivers and getting them the support and care that they need in order to continue taking care of their military service member or veteran.
The Elizabeth Dole Foundation, now partnering with Joining Forces, commissioned a RAND report on our military caregivers, defining these people as "a family member, friend, or acquaintance who provides a broad range of care and assistance for, or manages the care of, a current or former military service member with a disabling physical or mental injury or illness." The study brings to light so many things we need to know about these caregivers in order to better support them in their journeys. Here are a few key points that stuck out to me.
Post-9/11 military caregivers differ from the other two groups. They tend to be younger, caring for a younger individual with a mental health or substance use condition, employed, and not connected to a support network. They are more likely to use mental health resources and services, and to use them more often.
Seventeen percent of civilian caregivers reported spending more than 40 hours per week providing care (8 percent reported spending more than 80 hours per week); 12 percent of post-9/11 military caregivers and 10 percent of pre-9/11 military caregivers spent more than 40 hours per week.
Post-9/11 caregiver duties can be estimated as worth close to $3 billion (in 2011 dollars); the costs of lost productivity among post-9/11 caregivers are $5.9 billion (in 2011 dollars).
When you factor in that most of these caregivers had no previous training, that they came into this role almost overnight, the lack of support provided to them is alarming. Joining Forces and the Elizabeth Dole Foundation want to make sure that these caregivers not only have access to the support that they need, but that they know they have access to support. Not all caregivers live near a military installment where they are being told that they have access to care for themselves, not just their charge. So not only is the Department of Defense creating in-person caregiver peer forums at all military installations that serve wounded warriors and their caregivers around the world, but they're also creating online tools for those who can't attend. Additionally, the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, the Tragedy for Assistance Program for Survivors, a, and many other organizations are working to train 10,000 caregiver mentors.
One of the conference call attendees was Kara Kramer of It's a Dog Lick Baby World. She is a military caregiver for her husband, an injured Marine. I asked her what she thought.
I thought one of the most powerful parts of the conference call was the information shared from the RAND study. There are over one million military caregivers in the U.S. between the ages of 18 and 30 and they have received no special training in and live a daily struggle of balancing taking care of their injured veteran with everything else in life like raising young kids and maintaining employment. These caregivers need more support and it was encouraging to hear the the Elizabeth Dole Foundation is going to contribute to the Joining Forces campaign to help in this matter. As the spouse of an injured Marine, I especially appreciated their emphasis on fostering community between caregivers because the caregivers are often isolated, especially if their service member is separated from the military. I also appreciated that they recognized the importance of philanthropic organizations like the Semper Fi Fund in providing key services to injured Marines and hopefully in the future, these type of charities will receive federal or Dole Foundation financial support.
One way that you can help in 2014 is to spread the word of the work Joining Forces and The Elizabeth Dole Foundation are doing to support our caregivers. If you know of a military caregiver who needs support, please direct them to either caregiver.va.gov or militaryonesource.mil. I look forward to seeing where Joining Forces takes us this year and hearing more about the support they continue to push for in order to better support our military families in as many ways as they can.