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Enduring Need to Support Military Caregivers Drives Department of Defense’s Approach to Customized Resources

Over the next few days Warrior Care Policy will be posting stories written by military caregivers. These are their personal stories, capturing the challenges caregivers face and the courage and perseverance they demonstrate in providing daily support to their wounded, ill or injured service member. Their unique perspectives will provide a better understanding of caregivers and illuminate the important role caregives play in the recovery, rehabilitation and reintegration or transition process.

Today, there are approximately 15,000 military caregivers who are actively caring for wounded, ill and injured service members, a number that is expected to hold steady for the foreseeable future. There are also more than one million caregivers providing support to post-September 11, 2001 veterans. However, those statistics obscure the reality that many men and women performing caregiver duties aren’t recognizing themselves as caregivers.  This can create constant feelings of isolation and loneliness, as caregivers confront all-consuming daily challenges without fully understanding the critical assistance they provide to their service member or veteran.

Why is it difficult for spouses, parents, family members and friends to self-identify as military caregivers? Simply put, because caregivers take on many roles and responsibilities that are not, at first, out of the ordinary. While helping someone travel to work, sort medication or keep track of medical appointments might not seem overly taxing, the pressure to perform these and many other tasks on a consistent basis can become daunting. Oftentimes, the pressure mounts and creates a foreboding sense of responsibility for the caregiver. And for those who must dedicate much of their lives and resources to caring for a catastrophically wounded, ill or injured service member or veteran, proactive support and customized resources become even more paramount to ensure the caregiver is able to care for their service member, their family and themselves.

Caregivers perform a vital service because they care for their loved one. Caregivers advocate on behalf of the Service member, talk to doctors, learn about resources, absorb medical terminology and navigate through the Military Health System. No one will advocate for a service member the way a caregiver will. Caregivers are part of the healthcare team and we’ve seen many instances of caregivers being integral to positive outcomes for their service member.

In 2013 the Office of Warrior Care Policy formally began to support the military caregiver community by facilitating PEER Forums. PEER is an acronym standing for Personalized Experiences, Engagement and Resources, and that’s what these forums provide. PEER Forums are held in-person at 62 military installations throughout the country and virtual forums are held each month for those who are unable to attend an in-person forum. These forums are designed to provide opportunities for military caregivers to congregate, converse with their peers, share resources and best practices, and provide support in a secure environment with a Military and Family Life Counselor in attendance. More information about the forums can be found at www.warriorcare.mil.

At Warrior Care Policy, we also compile and produce the Caregiver Resource Directory, a list of specialized resources specifically for caregivers, host caregiver Webinars, maintain online Caregiver Resources pages, and support job fairs and respite care. In addition, we oversee Special Compensation for Assistance with Activities of Daily Living (SCAADL) for those caregivers who care for service members who are catastrophically wounded, ill or injured.

As we continue to explore new ways to support military caregivers and the military caregiver community, it has become clear that the sharing of information between caregivers is an unrivaled approach to break through feelings of fear and isolation. As a result, we encourage all caregivers to share their story, reveal their challenges and detail their triumphs.

By Sandra Mason, Director, Recovery Coordination Program, Office of Warrior Care Policy
Originally published December 14, 2015
Reprinted with permission