White Plains, NY (Law Firm Newswire) June 14, 2013 — There are currently at least 22 million U.S. military veterans, many of whom are cared for by family members on an ongoing or full-time basis.
According to the U.S. Department of Defense, more than 30 percent of the returning vets have clinical depression, traumatic brain injury and/or issues with post-traumatic stress disorder. It is estimated that one million people, spouses, parents and other relatives, are currently caring for these wounded warriors who have physical or psychological impairments, with no remuneration and little-to-no outside support.
Caregivers are dealing with issues previous generations never even had to consider, advocates say. Veterans have come back from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with closed head injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder and physical disability issues that need long-term care far beyond the VA’s capacity. They may need assisting with daily activities such as bathing, dressing, walking or wheelchair transfers, or with psychological support efforts, or transportation to and from medical appointments and physical therapy.
As integral support members, caregivers may change wound dressings, dispense medications, manage pain and issues with fatigue, and must stay on top of a significant amount of complex paperwork and billing. The care they perform may be intense and around-the-clock, and may include informal mental health care for which the caregiver has no training.
The Department of Veterans Affairs has some benefits available to military caregivers, but like the backlog for returning vets, there is a massive backlog of caregiver claims, and information about benefits for caregivers is not widely publicized. The combination of delays in processing and lack of an overarching support system leave many caregivers without the resources they could desperately use.
While they care for and support the veteran, caregivers must also be adept at successfully navigating the complex VA system, working with multiple health professionals while juggling several care plans and coordinating treatment between the Veterans Health Administration and civilian medical care providers. They also often must oversee legal and financial issues for the vet under their care, and may also have dependent children and/or employment they need to maintain. The combination of stress and long hours often take a toll; caretakers have a higher-than-average incidence of employment loss, clinical depression, and financial debt.
One organization hopes to make a change. This March, former U.S. senator Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.) launched The Elizabeth Dole Foundation to “help raise awareness of the enormous challenges facing the caregivers of the nation’s military.” Though caregiver needs are pervasive, currently no national strategy exists for supporting them, nor has there been a comprehensive study done to adequately determine how to best meet their needs. The Elizabeth Dole Foundation has stated that it is dedicated to researching the challenges faced by caregivers, raising public awareness of their needs, and helping to empower them.
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