A newly released study found something that stunned even me – there are 1.1 million post-9/11 military caregivers in the US.
As the program coordinator for Operation Homefront’s wounded warrior caregiver support program Hearts of Valor and a Elizabeth Dole Foundation fellow, I live and breathe the military caregiver world. My own husband was severely injured in 2006. Caregiving is what I know.
Hearts of Valor, a non-profit focused on post-9/11 caregivers, has 1,600 members. That means well over one million caregivers are missing out on a support network of other wounded warrior spouses and family members.
Let me say that again: one million.
The study by the RAND Corp, released March 31, found that the total military caregiver population is estimated to be much, much higher at 5.5 million.
As an Elizabeth Dole Foundation fellow I was able, with 19 other caregivers, to help RAND formulate the questions for the study.
Post 9/11 military and veteran caregivers tend to be much younger than those civilian counterparts. The study’s findings supported this. I have noticed that when I try to research resources for the military and veteran caregivers the topics are more focused on the aging population. Some of the resources available simply aren’t applicable because of this. “40 percent of these caregivers are between 18 and 30” and they will be caring for their veteran for many decades to come.
This leaves us at a high risk for burn out, divorce and mental health challenges. That’s something we already knew antecedently. Now we have research to show it.
Another key finding from the study was related to how much my services – and those from other spouses like me -- as a caregiver are worth. The dollar amount put on the worth of veteran caregivers was astounding.
“Post-9/11 caregiver duties can be estimated as worth close to $3 billion (in 2011 dollars),” the report says. These caregivers are providing sometimes more than 40 hours weekly caring for their veterans. Without their help these veterans could be placed in nursing home care or the veteran is suffering alone to get their needs met.
The caregivers are towing a huge bulk of the responsibilities and without them I can’t imagine the state that these veterans would be in. Thankfully the VA Caregivers Program is helping to compensate for the caregivers wages that are lost due to their caregiving responsibilities and helping with access to mental health.
Clearly there are organizations and programs out there to aide in fulfilling caregiver needs, like Hearts of Valor. However a couple of organizations and programs simply aren’t enough. These caregivers need long term help and support and the study identified and solidified the need for more help and more programs.
Former Senator Elizabeth Dole has referred to the caregivers as Hidden Heroes. I witness these caregiver’s heroic acts every day when working with Hearts of Valor. I am thankful for her call to action on behalf of military veteran caregivers. Without this study, awareness and support, these caregivers will be struggling to keep up with the demands of their caregiving.
Cheryl Gansner is the wife of a wounded veteran that was injured on July 28th, 2006 in Kirkuk, Iraq. Bryan and Cheryl have been married for eight years and have one daughter. Cheryl has her bachelor’s degree in Social Work and is the Program Coordinator for Operation Homefront’s Hearts of Valor Program. Hearts of Valor serves caregivers of wounded, ill or injured service members post 9/11. For more information on Cheryl check out her blog at www.wifeofawoundedsoldier.com.
Cheryl will be headed to DC on April 8th, 2014 to meet with the other Fellows, my State Representative and to attend a function at the White House with the First Lady and Dr. Jill Biden on behalf of the Dole Foundation. To learn more about the foundation please go here.