Military family caregivers are a special group. They’re coping with issues such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), amputations, and other conditions and situations specific to military personnel that most nonmilitary family caregivers don’t have to face. However, all military family caregivers are not alike. As with other family caregivers, every military family caregiver has a unique situation. As a professional, understanding how caregivers of service members/veterans are alike and how they differ is essential in providing the most effective help possible. (Note: For the purposes of this article, the term service member refers to someone still actively engaged in the military, and veteran refers to someone who has served and has been discharged or has retired from the military.)
Although little research exists on military family caregivers, this article identifies similarities and differences that have been recognized among members of this group. The information included in this article comes from government or foundation reports or from research on specific populations, such as caregivers of veterans or service members with traumatic brain injuries (TBI), cancer, or other illnesses or disabilities.
As a professional, one of the most important things you can do is let military family caregivers know that they’re not alone. The report Military Caregivers: Cornerstones of Support for Our Nation’s Wounded, Ill, and Injured Veterans estimates that between 275,000 and 1 million Americans are caring for or have cared for a wounded, ill, or injured service member from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Letting a caregiver know that he or she is not alone will help that person realize that others are in similar situations and are coping with many of the same challenges. On the other hand, expressing your understanding that each caregiving situation is unique is important too. Exploring the similarities and differences among military family caregivers through insightful questions will help you zero in on the best way to address each family’s specific caregiving needs.
For more information about helping military family caregivers, see Helping Military Caregivers, Part II: Recognizing Their Challenges.
Mary Brintnall-Peterson, Ph.D., MPB Consulting, LLC
Department of Defense (DOD). Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center. Worldwide Numbers for Traumatic Brain Injury. Retrieved August 19, 2013.
Griffin, J. M.; Friedemann-Sanchez, G.; Jensen, A. C.; Taylor, B. C.; Gravely, A .; Clothier, B.; Simon, A. B.; Bangerter, A.; Pickett, T.; Thors, C.; Ceperich, S.; Poole, J.; & van Ryn, M. (2012). The Invisible Side of War: Families Caring for US Service Members with Traumatic Brain Injuries and Polytrauma. Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation 27(1):3-13.
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National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC) (2010). Caregivers of Veterans—Serving on the Homefront. Bethesda, MD: National Alliance for Caregiving. Retrieved January 1, 2011.
National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP (2009). Caregiving in the United States. Bethesda, MD: National Alliance for Caregiving. Retrieved January 10, 2010.
Pinkus, E. (2011). Survey of Nebraska Members on Long-Term Care and Caregiving Issues. Washington, DC: AARP.
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