Veteran’s Family Caregivers

Caregiving for a loved one who is a veteran can be stressful on both the veteran and the caregiver. Family members or friends providing care for veterans may feel that they are alone, but caregiving for veterans is not uncommon. By 2013, approximately 1 million people had cared for loved ones who served in Iraq or Afghanistan,1 and as of 2016, there were 5.5 million caregivers of military personnel and veterans in the U.S.2

Being a Family Caregiver

A veteran and his wife, his family caregiver, exploring the local park.

You may not know that the help you provide your veteran loved one is “caregiving.” If you are a member of a veteran’s family, extended family, or a close friend, and you provide any of the following supports, you are a caregiver:3

  • Assistance with showering, getting dressed, eating, or using the bathroom.
  • Setting up medical appointments.
  • Driving to the doctor or pharmacy.
  • Administering medications.
  • Talking to veterans’ healthcare or mental health providers about the care or benefits.

Veterans commonly struggle with depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and traumatic brain injury (TBI).4 Caregivers may be helping with behavioral symptoms like restlessness, worrying, dizziness, concentration, sleep problems, withdrawal from family and friends, hyper-awareness or startled responses, and losing interest in previously enjoyable activities.5, 6 , 7

In cases of alcohol or drug abuse, caregivers may also be helping veterans manage cravings for substances, changes in mood or a desire to isolate from others. In addition to frequent illness associated with recovery from addiction.8

Challenges of Being a Caregiver

Being a caregiver involves changes to your life as you find a new normal with your loved one.

This can mean experiencing feelings of loss of the veteran as they used to be, adapting roles in the family, and changes in work schedules or other daily routines.9

The majority of veteran caregivers report a high level of emotional burden.4 An increase in stress or anxiety from caregiving has been reported in 88% of veteran caregivers, and 77% state sleep deprivation is an issue.2 Caregivers also may have decreased physical and emotional well-being and self-care.9

Veterans Need Care

Substance abuse and mental health issues are common among veterans. Veterans have a high prevalence of depression or anxiety (70%), PTSD (60%), and TBI (29%),4 and 24.7% struggle with other mental illnesses.10

A report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) found that:10

  • 2% of veterans struggle with alcohol abuse.
  • 7% struggle with illicit drug abuse.
  • 7% struggle with both alcohol and illicit drug abuse.

Seeking Help for Veterans

As a caregiver, you are responsible for many needs a veteran may have. There are multiple resources available to assist you in caring for the veteran in your life, including in-home services; mental health counseling and care for PTSD, depression, and anxiety, and alcohol and drug abuse treatment.

VA Care

The Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) has multiple programs to support caregivers in getting veterans the care they need. The Program of General Caregiver Support Services (PGCSS) provides caregivers of enrolled Veterans from any era of service with supports, including:3

  • Education and training on caregiving.
  • Information and referral to in-home services, support groups, and other resources.
  • Mental health counseling related to the veteran’s condition.
  • Peer support and education from other caregivers.

The Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers (PCAFC) is available to eligible veterans injured during military service on or after September 11, 2001. Supports include:3

  • Beneficiary Travel benefits.
  • Health insurance.
  • Mental health services.
  • Monthly financial support.
In-home care services include adult day health centers, primary care services in the home, home hospice care, in-home personal care and skilled care, and respite care.3

Caregiver support coordinators are available to help you understand and enroll in these programs. Use the Caregiver Support Coordinator search tool to contact your local caregiver support coordinator, or call the Caregiver Support Line at 1-855-260-3274 (available toll free from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. EST).

Salute to Recovery at AAC

Salute to Recovery is a comprehensive program at Desert Hope Treatment Center, an American Addiction Centers (AAC) treatment facility in Las Vegas, Nevada. Salute to Recovery is designed for veterans with co-occurring mental health and substance abuse who have symptoms that severely impact themselves and the people round them.

Treatment is based on a team approach and focuses on promoting resilience through successful methods of helping veterans engage in positive decision-making and sustainable positive changes in their lives. Evidence-based treatments include:

The program also includes a First Responder and Military Lifeline curriculum that provides education about military culture, character and values, post traumatic responses and the impact of stress, family relationships, and needs in recovery.

Our Admissions Navigators are always available to assist you.

Call Now (888) 902- VETS

AAC’s admissions navigators will provide information about treatment options for veterans – Salute to Recovery – and what is needed in order for the VA to help pay for treatment.

Caring for Yourself

Physical and emotional stress experienced by caregivers may lead to burnout, which can negatively impact your ability to care for your veteran loved one and yourself.11 Key signs of burnout may include:11

  • Irritability.
  • Fatigue.
  • Sleep disturbance.
  • Weight gain
  • Feelings of helplessness or hopelessness.

It is important that caregivers develop skills and activities to care for themselves as well, including self-compassion, mindfulness, healthy diet, healthy sleep habits, and social connection.11

Additional Resources

There are many other resources available to help you care for yourself and the veteran in your life.

  • Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA), which provide support groups and mentorship for those in recovery from substance abuse.
  • AAC, which provides treatment information for veterans with co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders.
  • Foundations, community groups, and government-sponsored programs and groups.

Though caregiving may be stressful, there are many resources and programs available to help you care for your veteran loved one and care for yourself as well. Resources include information and referral services, medical and mental health treatment options, and support for veteran caregivers.

 

Sources:

  1. Patel, B. R. (2015). Caregivers of veterans with “invisible” Social Work, 60(1), 9-17.
  2. Family Caregiver Alliance. (2016). Caregiver Statistics: Demographics.
  3. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2020). VA Caregiver Support.
  4. National Alliance for Caregiving. (2010). Caregivers of Veterans – Serving on the Homefront.
  5. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2019). Anxiety.
  6. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2019). PTSD.
  7. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2019). Depression.
  8. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2019). Substance Use.
  9. Hyatt, K. S., Davis, L. L., & Barroso, J. (2015). Finding the New Normal: Accepting Changes After Combat-Related Mild Traumatic Brain Injury. Journal of Nursing Scholarship, 47(4), 300-309.
  10. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2018) 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Veterans.
  11. Wei, M. (2018). Self-Care for the Caregiver.
Last Updated on March 19, 2020
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Sarah Hardey
A Senior Web Content Editor for the American Addiction Centers. Sarah has worked with healthcare facilities across the country to create digital content for readers of all types.
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