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Research Questions

  1. Who are military caregivers?
  2. What do they do?
  3. Why is military caregiving unique?
  4. How does caregiving affect military caregivers?
  5. What resources are available?

Abstract

Military caregivers are an essential part of our nation's ability to care for returning wounded warriors. Far too often, their own needs are neglected. The RAND Corporation and the Elizabeth Dole Foundation collaborated on a first, exploratory phase of a larger research effort regarding this demographic and its needs. The paper explores what is known about the number and characteristics of military caregivers, describes the roles and functions they perform, and highlights the effect of caregiving on their own well-being. Most existing literature on family caregivers is heavily focused on an older population caring for persons with chronic conditions or dementia. By comparison, research on military caregivers is scant, and there are notable differences that make this population unique: Military caregivers are spouses with young children, parents with full- and part-time jobs, and sometimes even young children helping shoulder some of the burden. Government services available to this population are in their infancy; community service organizations offer diverse services but they are generally uncoordinated. This paper lays the groundwork to inform policy and program development relative to the unique needs of military caregivers.

Note: The preliminary findings in this paper have been superseded by RAND's 2014 major study on military caregivers (fully documented in Hidden Heroes: America's Military Caregivers), which included a nationally representative survey of caregivers and a broad examination of the support resources available to them. All publications related to this study are available at the RAND Military Caregivers Study webpage.

Key Findings

Military Caregivers Differ From the General Caregiving Population

  • While most of the focus on caregivers tends to be on older populations caring for persons with chronic conditions or dementia, military caregivers tend to be younger mothers with dependent-age children who are dealing with a different set of patient variables, including physical and mental trauma.

They Face Unique Challenges

  • Along with providing assistance and assuming responsibilities typically conducted by nurses, orderlies and attendants, military caregivers also act as case managers who coordinate care, sometimes across multiple health systems, advocates for new treatment and better care, and financial and legal representatives for their loved one. Many of them are also parenting children and holding down jobs outside the home.

They Put Themselves Last

  • General studies on caregivers indicate that caregivers suffer from physical strain and a general decline in physical and mental health. They tend to put their own concerns last, citing a lack of time and ability to get the hours needed for their own care. Military caregivers also suffer disproportionately from mental health problems and emotional distress.

Available Resources are of Limited Help

  • Although there are programs offering information, training, assistance and support, many are government programs still in their infancy and community resources are scattered and uncoordinated. Difficulties are presented by differing eligibility criteria, lack of access, and the way caregivers' needs change over time.

Recommendations

  • Research is recommended to explore how caregiving needs of veterans and wounded service members change over time, how these changes will be met in the long-term, how decades of serving as caregivers affect military spouses, what happens when the care giver can no longer meet their loved one's needs, and the long-term effects on child caregivers.
  • Proposed research includes a comprehensive needs assessment of military caregivers, a formal environmental scan of resources available to military caregivers, and a gap analysis to identify where there are sufficient resources and where there is opportunity for improvement.

This report was prepared as part of Phase I of a research study funded by Caring for Military Families: The Elizabeth Dole Foundation. The research was conducted within the Forces and Resources Policy Center of the RAND National Security Research Division (NSRD).

This report is part of the RAND Corporation research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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