They Also Serve: Understanding the Needs of Military Caregivers


Nov 18, 2013

man in wheelchair with spouse and caregiver

The United States has been at war since 2001. In this prolonged period of conflict, military families have played a critical role in supporting U.S. servicemembers during deployment and helping them cope with reintegration into family life. To honor the service and sacrifice of America's military families, President Obama has declared November to be National Military Family Appreciation Month. RAND research has shed light on the contributions of military families as well as the stresses they face from deployment-related challenges.

Equally vital but often less visible is the role played by those outside the treatment system who provide care for the many thousands of servicemembers who returned with disabling injuries or illnesses and require long-term support beyond what the formal health care system provides. These military caregivers are typically spouses, parents, children, or other relatives, but some are also neighbors, friends, or co-workers. They help in many ways, including assisting with tasks of daily living such as feeding and walking, offering mental and emotional support, helping to navigate the health care system, and handling legal and financial matters. The care and assistance they provide saves the nation millions of dollars in long-term care costs.

To date, little is known about the needs of military caregivers or the resources available to help them. A RAND study, commissioned by the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, is examining these issues. The first phase of the study, completed in March 2013, summarized current knowledge about military caregivers and how caregiving affects their own health and well-being. Drawing from the limited research on military caregivers as well as from research on caregivers more generally, it was clear that the toll on caregivers can be enormous, resulting in lost jobs and lost wages. It is also likely that military caregivers suffer disproportionately from mental health problems and emotional distress and face elevated risks of physical health problems, such as hypertension and heart disease.

The second phase of the study, which includes a nationally representative survey of caregivers, will more accurately describe the magnitude of military caregiving in the United States, as well as current policies, programs, and other initiatives designed to support military caregivers. The goal of this phase, the results of which we expect to release in the Spring of 2014, is to develop specific recommendations that will help policymakers improve current support initiatives to ensure that military caregivers' needs are being met. Over the longer-term, we hope that our recommendations will inform development of a national strategy for supporting military caregivers as they help the nation meet its obligation to care for its wounded warriors.

Rajeev Ramchand is a senior behavioral and social scientist and Terri Tanielian is a senior social research analyst at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation.

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