Ask Veronica — Military caregiving in modern times
At UCSD, Dr. Brent T Mausbach, a licensed clinical psychologist, has been conducting research on caregivers for years with the UC San Diego Caregiver Project. All this research is feeding programs to improve the lives of caregivers and their care recipients.
Evidence from the UCSD Caregiver Project indicates that caregivers suffer from a higher rate of depression and suicide as well as their worlds get smaller and smaller as their depression and caregiver duties grow. Research is demonstrating that caregivers who take care of themselves first and work on improving the quality of their own life are better suited for long term caregiving.
What’s in a number?
The Family Caregiver Alliance has been working to improve the lives of caregivers for 40 years and is a great resource for caregivers.
Below are some numbers from a 2014 RAND Military Caregiver Study. These numbers shed light on the obstacles and true reality of being a military caregiver in the U.S. The 2020 revised study is expected to be released next year.
- In 2014, there were an estimated 5.5 million military caregivers in the United States, so we know that in 2019, this number is significantly higher.
- About 37 percent were under 30 years of age. And nearly half of employed military caregivers, 47 percent, don’t have a support network, as compared to non-working military caregivers, at 71 percent.
- This RAND Military Caregiver Study reports that these same military caregivers are 64 percent more likely to be caring for someone with a behavioral health condition as compared to 36 percent for non-military caregivers. PTSD and TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) is a very real part of life for our military caregivers.
Are you a military caregiver? Does this sound like your life: Getting ready for work, getting kids off to school, scheduling doctors’ appointments, arranging for in-home care, picking up medications, fixing meals, trying to gauge moods and receptiveness of your injured or aged loved one. Ensuring everyone has what they need when they need it.
I image the average military family plans on being on active duty until retirement. But a significant injury, which can happen in a heartbeat, ends that plan. I believe most people don’t really understand what it’s like to try to keep yourself positive and upbeat for your loved one who has just lost their mobility, their autonomy and their dream of growing in the ranks of their service branch.
In the middle of all of that, you military caregivers cannot forget what your needs are. And then you have to ask people to help you. So look around and speak up.
Ways we can all help a military caregiver
Talk is cheap as they saying goes, so what can you — a friend or family member or neighbor — do to improve the lives of military caregivers you know? Sometimes, it can be as easy as asking them to give you a specific task, like running an errand. Other times, you might set up a regular scheduled time to help them.
If you live in a military town like San Diego, even if you don’t personally know a military caregiver, there are so many ways to be of service. Do some research online and find a local organization that is providing assistance to military caregivers and sign up as a volunteer. Talk to your local support groups, churches, and military offices to find out where you can get started. Be realistic with your commitments so you can meet them and continue to make the effort.
Caregivers of all stripes typically don’t have much discretionary time or money, so look for opportunities to provide actual respite. Can you take over their caregiving duties while they go to the movies or do something for themselves? Think about a manner of giving that will benefit the caregiver on a regular basis.
And remember this: Helping others is the best way to get outside yourself and and forget your own difficulties in life, if only temporarily.