VA Opens New Research Center Focused on Veteran Caregivers

A veteran and his caregiver speak to a doctor. (Image: va.gov)
A veteran and his caregiver speak to a doctor. (Image: va.gov)

A new Department of Veterans Affairs research hub will focus on veteran caregiver challenges and services, officials announced today.

The Elizabeth Dole Center of Excellence will operate under the VA Health Services Research and Development program, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie announced today. The virtual center is named in honor of former Sen. Elizabeth Dole whose foundation focuses on caregiver issues, support and research.

The research center will work with VA investigators and universities to develop agency policy for how veteran caregivers are supported and best practices for in-home and community-based care.

While the VA does currently offer services to caregivers, including a program which provides a monthly stipend to those who qualify, it does not have a research center dedicated to the subject.

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There are an estimated 5.5 million military caregivers in the U.S., with about 1.1 million caring for a veteran who served after September 11, 2001, according to a 2014 RAND Corps report commissioned by the Elizabeth Dole Foundation. About 40 percent of those are between the ages of 18 and 30 and are caring for a veteran with a mental health or substance abuse condition, researchers found.

The new research center plans to include input from caregivers themselves in its design and findings, officials said. That buy-in has been key to the Elizabeth Dole Foundation’s past caregiver work. The foundation annually names veteran caregivers to a fellowship advocacy program where they help develop policy the organization presents to lawmakers and administration officials.

Now, VA officials said they plan to involve caregivers and veterans directly in their process as well by integrating their input into care models, evaluation, feedback and best practices.

"The resulting work will inform care delivery and improvement by empowering Veterans, caregivers, VA and non-VA providers, and leadership in making informed choices regarding the best care for Veterans and support for those who support them," VA officials said in a release.

VA officials did not say how much the new research center will cost or when it will start work.

-- Amy Bushatz can be reached at amy.bushatz@military.com.

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