- - Monday, May 18, 2015

The role of a military or veteran caregiver can be all-consuming and stressful, leaving little time or energy for caregivers to tend to their own needs, often resulting in a deterioration of their physical and mental well-being.

As military and veteran caregivers transition into their new roles, the challenge of caring for a loved one with multiple and serious mental and/or physical wounds, illnesses and injuries is often compounded by increased feelings of isolation.

The severe mental and emotional illnesses associated with this longest period of war in our nation’s history have become the signature scars for this generation of service members. These invisible wounds can linger, if not worsen over time resulting in anger, mood swings or paranoia.

Balancing multiple demands, facing daily stressors, and feeling isolated from others can result in some caregivers developing anxiety and depression themselves.

Lack of time, resources, and health insurance can make it difficult for caregivers to address their own health concerns, which in turn compromises their overall health and ability to care for their loved one and other family members. In fact many caregivers, according to experts, have no doctor at all.

These challenges facing so many of our nation’s military families were documented in a 2014 RAND Corporation study, commissioned by the Elizabeth Dole Foundation. The findings concluded that military and veteran caregivers suffer poorer physical and mental health conditions than non-caregivers. Caregivers report high instances of isolation, fatigue and feelings of helplessness, and those caring for post-9/11 veterans are four times more likely than non-caregivers to suffer from severe depression.

These statistics are staggering and suggest that action needs to be taken immediately to ensure that health care is accessible to caregivers and that providers are informed and prepared to help those caring for our veterans. The Mental and Physical Health Impact Council of the Elizabeth Dole Foundation is working to make sure that supportive services are in place for America’s hidden heroes. Recently, the Foundation has collaborated with countless military and veteran service organizations as well as partners across the public, private, academic and nonprofit sectors to launch the Military and Veteran Caregiver Network. The Network directly addresses the feeling of isolation—one of the key findings in the RAND Study—in order to form supportive bonds and exchange critical resources among the 5.5 million Americans caring for service members or veterans.

Additionally, the Impact Council is working to increase cultural competency among mental and physical service providers by establishing education programs to address the sensitive, complex, and unique needs of military caregivers. The Council believes that it is a major priority to increase access to evidence-based prevention and healthcare treatment programs that directly address the prevalent mental and emotional illnesses afflicting military caregivers. There is much work yet to be done in order for our military and veteran caregivers to know that they are not facing these challenges alone. It is our nation’s responsibility to respond.

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