- - Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Caregiving is a time-intensive commitment, which can have a profound impact on military and veteran caregivers who are currently employed or need work. The two-year RAND study commissioned by the Elizabeth Dole Foundation found that many employed caregivers work in full-time positions because they are now the sole income provider for the family. Of those caregivers surveyed, many also found that the time devoted to caregiving required adjustments in their work schedules, often resulting in lost income and financial strain. This is particularly significant for employed post- 9/11 military caregivers, whose absenteeism is 3.5 days per month, much higher than the average for civilian and pre- 9/11 caregivers, which is one day per month. This puts a strain on both the employer and employee in terms of income, wages, lost productivity, and the consequences of unmet deadlines.

According to the RAND study, military caregivers acknowledge that their already-complicated lives are further strained by work environments characterized by lack of awareness and accommodation of the never-ending demands and stress that caregivers face because of their dual roles. Their reported experiences suggest that most workplaces have demonstrated limited flexibility in accommodating caregivers’ requirements in ways that would help them succeed in their jobs. Some caregivers are also reluctant to even inform their employers of the demands they face. Not sharing this information means that employers are without important insights that could possibly lead to critical and official workplace accommodations to alleviate unnecessary pressures.

The end result in the conflict between the role of caregivers and wage earners is that military caregivers often must adapt their work schedules through unpaid leave and reduced work hours, or by quitting or retiring early to adequately care for their loved ones and their families. Almost half (47%) of post-9/11 caregivers report needing to adjust their work schedules as a result of caregiving. These decisions and resultant changes in employment status and schedules can mean unanticipated reductions in wages from absenteeism, the potential loss of health care coverage, further reductions in work day hours and retirement benefits, and potentially termination of employment. The resulting financial and emotional strain inevitably affect the well-being of caregivers when they can least afford new pressures.

The Employment and Workplace Support Impact Council determined that costs associated with absenteeism including lost income and productivity, can be mitigated through special caregiver support services provided by the VA, emerging employer-based employee assistance programs for military caregivers, and creating nationwide awareness of resulting benefits for both military caregivers and their employers. The Impact Council members are working to encourage and highlight innovation in employer support programs to create, expand and support flexible work opportunities and initiatives responsive to the specific needs of this population. It is also working with partners to establish programs to educate employers and employees about military caregivers’ roles, needs and contributions. The goal is to help employers better understand the value of employing and supporting military caregivers to the benefit of both employers and employees.

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