Written by CAPT (ret) Mary Smart (HI)
May is designated as Military Caregiver Month, recognizing those who assist our veterans who can no longer independently accomplish many of their daily tasks. These individuals provide a great service to the service member but also to society.
A study by RAND Corporation found that about 5.5 million Americans are caring for disabled military members, with about 20% of them caring for service members injured after September 11, 2001. It is estimated that these caregivers reduce costs to the taxpayer by billions of dollars.
There are interesting differences between caregivers for those who served before and those serving after 9/11 events. It is often the children who are caring for pre-9/11 veterans, and a spouse, parent or adult child for post-9/11 service members. Friends help in caregiving duties about 25% of the time. Although the post-9/11 disabled military member is younger, they often have behavioral health issues such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Major Depressive Disorder, and Substance Use Disorder, which require more help from their caregiver and subsequently take more of the caregiver’s time. Those caring for younger members usually have additional demands on their time such as a job and children. Often, those caring for the younger service members don’t have as strong of a support network as those caring for the older veterans.
Various legislation and support organizations have been put in place to help the military caregiver. For example, public sector employers and private employers with 50 or more employees must provide eligible employees unpaid, job-protected leave up to 26 workweeks of leave during a single 12-month period to care for the service member under specified conditions. There is a Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) Advisor who can assist an employee to take advantage of this program.
Everyone probably knows a military caregiver. The month of May is a good time to ask if there are any tasks you can do to give them a little more free time. They might like you to do some shopping, fill their gas tank, wash their car, cut their lawn, or just spend a little time with the disabled member to provide the caregiver some respite from their hectic schedule.