November is National Family Caregiver month — when we recognize and honor the 40 million family caregivers across this country .
Family caregivers are “first responders” in the delivery of long-term services and supports (LTSS). They assist family members or friends with personal care and other vital activities to help them remain in their homes and communities. Across the United States, family caregivers identify, arrange and coordinate services and supports, administer medications, assist with personal care, and perform other vital activities to help individuals remain in their homes and communities. Thus, often it is caregivers who subsidize required care — with both their wallets and their own sheer hard work — at their own emotional, physical and financial expense. Even the hard numbers attest to this reality. The economic value of caregiving was $470 billion in 2014 — more than the total spending for Medicaid services for both medical and LTSS.
Family caregivers also care for many of our nation’s veterans. On Veterans Day the nation will pause to recognize and honor those who either served in the United States armed forces or are currently part of the military serving and protecting our country. There are 1.3 million active-duty personnel and over 800,000 in the reserves. These brave and courageous men and women are spouses, partners, uncles, aunts, parents, children and grandparents. They come from every walk of life, racial and ethnic background, age, education level and religion. They live in our communities and might be our neighbors or one of our coworkers.
After they serve their country, many veterans must answer another call requiring bravery, selflessness and strength — that is, the call to be caregivers themselves. Ron Hendler, a veteran of the Vietnam War, is one of those people. Read his story in his own words here.
According to data from the Caregiving in the U.S. 2015 survey, about 11 percent of all family caregivers of adults have served in active duty. This equates to about 4.2 million family caregivers. Roughly 14 percent of care recipients in the survey identified themselves as veterans. The National Alliance for Caregiving and United Health Foundation report indicates that the typical caregiver of a veteran is more likely to be a woman caring for a spouse or partner. Family caregivers of veterans are more likely to be the primary caregiver, compared to the general caregiving population (82 percent vs. 53 percent).
The report indicated that 26 percent of all family caregivers who are parents were caring for a young veteran from Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. This has serious implications for parents who are aging and will need support for themselves as they get older. Nearly one-third (30 percent) of caregivers of veterans were providing care for 10 years or more, compared to 15 percent of caregivers of adults nationally.
Given the weight of their responsibility, family caregivers need meaningful support. They often experience stress, frustration, isolation and even helplessness in providing care. They need access to information, training tools, and respite and relief so they can attend to their own needs. Moreover, they need assistance with navigating complex health care delivery systems and a culture that must be transformed to embrace the reality that family caregivers, too, are part of the care team and so therefore must have their needs assessed and addressed. Thankfully, there are resources and programs — such as AARP’s Spotlight on Veterans and the Caregiver Resource Center, the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Caregiver Support Program, Easter Seals and Hidden Heroes — that are helping veterans and supporting family caregivers in providing care.
Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Everybody can be great ... because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”
America’s veterans and family caregivers personify those words and more — it’s a sense of duty and obligation. Let’s support them.
Read the story of Ron Hendler, American war veteran and family caregiver.
Photo courtesy of iStock.