Veteranclaims’s Blog

December 12, 2010

Veteran Caregivers, Home Front Heroes

The full findings of the Caregivers of Veterans – Serving on the Homefront study can be found at http://www.unitedhealthfoundation.org/veterans, or, http://www.caregiving.org.

The study, by the National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC) and funded by United Health Foundation, found that family caregivers of veterans face a higher burden of care, both in intensity and duration, often supporting a spouse or partner over a longer period of time than typical family caregivers

Compared to caregivers nationally, caregivers of veterans are twice as likely to be in their caregiving role for 10 years or longer (30 percent vs. 15 percent).

Full Article At; Veteran care, a difficult task
December 12, 2010

By MICHAEL RUKAVINA
OBSERVER Staff Writer

Recently the first national study giving a voice to family caregivers of veterans was released, and not surprisingly revealed that they are twice as likely to consider their situation highly stressful as compared to that of family caregivers of adults overall. And yet, 94 percent of them are proud to serve in that role.

The study, by the National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC) and funded by United Health Foundation, found that family caregivers of veterans face a higher burden of care, both in intensity and duration, often supporting a spouse or partner over a longer period of time than typical family caregivers. These caregivers also are predominantly women (96 percent) compared to the national average (65 percent), and many make sacrifices to their own health and jobs to care for their loved ones.

“The family caregivers who serve our country’s veterans are making huge sacrifices in terms of their own health, careers and home life,” said Reed Tuckson, M.D., United Health Foundation board member and executive vice president and chief of medical affairs, UnitedHealth Group. “The data indicate that these ‘homefront heroes’ are proud to serve in the role of caregiver for their loved ones. Yet it is incumbent upon all of us to help them find support and solutions to preserve their own health and well being, as well as that of the veteran. It is important that relatives, friends, and neighbors seek out opportunities to provide respite and other supportive services to these caregivers.”

While there are no firm numbers available, Chautauqua County is home to several veterans, most recently those coming back from Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF).

“We see a lot of these veterans that are coming in through our office,” stated Troy Smith, Director of the Chautauqua County Office of Veterans Services. “And whether they’re married or not they would still have moms or people that would have to take care of a lot of the injuries that they do sustain, which a lot of times is post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and that can go undiagnosed for a long period of time.”

Gail Hunt, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Caregiving noted that the care of a veteran is unique, and in many ways these caregivers are facing even greater challenges than other family caregivers.

The study goes on to reveal that nine out of 10 caregivers of veterans are women, and that 30 percent of these caregivers are part of the classic “Sandwich Generation” – balancing caring for their veteran and caring for children under the age of 18. This situation can take a toll on family dynamics. Of the caregivers with children in their home, 69 percent report spending less time with their children than they would like. Fifty-seven percent report that their children or grandchildren have experienced emotional or school problems as a result of their caregiving or the veteran’s condition.

“The vets who do come into my office, usually they’re accompanied by their mom if they’re younger vets, or a spouse or a girlfriend. There is definitely a lot of strain and a lot of stress on them. Basically because the person that left is not the same person that’s coming back … the veterans coming back have PTSD, they have traumatic brain injuries … they have a hard time fitting back into the civilian world,” Smith said of his experience as Veterans Services director. “A lot of times they’re withdrawn into themselves, they’re hyper vigilant, they don’t want people to touch them, they are secluding to themselves. They draw back a lot, they may get angry a lot, they may not be able to continue on with relationships. There are so many different facades of issues that are brought back.”

The county office of Veterans Service helps to advocate for the veterans on their behalf to make sure they get into VA treatment, so that they’re able to get into PTSD group sessions, mental health coordination through VA counselors, or if they have traumatic brain injury in making sure they are receiving that treatment through the VA.

“It’s not an automatic thing. When a veteran gets out it’s not automatic that they can just arbitrarily reporting to the VA Health Care Facility,” Smith said. “Our agency sits down and does a comprehensive screen. We find out what programs they are eligible for and we ensure they get into the VA health care and then we submit claims to the VA for service connected disabilities … it seems like the role of this agency is expanding based on having to take care of vets in different ways that they’ve never been taken care of before and making sure they get in.”

Compared to caregivers nationally, caregivers of veterans are twice as likely to be in their caregiving role for 10 years or longer (30 percent vs. 15 percent). They also are twice as likely to be in a high-burden caregiving role and to consider their situation highly stressful.

One contributing factor to these caregivers’ stress and burden, as stated in the study, is the veteran’s health conditions, which often include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (60 percent), mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety (70 percent), and traumatic brain injury (TBI) (29 percent). Study respondents also report feeling stressed say they avoid situations that could be stressful for their veteran and trigger anxiety or antisocial behavior. Eighty-six percent report that they need to remind or give cues to the veteran about what he or she should be doing.

“When they come back unfortunately they can’t really self-identify or self-diagnose that there’s an issue with them,” Smith said of the number one issue for returning vets. “They think everybody else has changed, not them. The biggest part is to make sure if they’re able to get down to my office for a comprehensive screen and therefore myself or one of the other counselors can get them and the family members to the department of Veterans Affairs where they have clinical counselors able to sit down, diagnose and treat to start helping them through this process.”

The Chautauqua County Office of Veterans Services has offices at 610 West Third Street, Jamestown and at the Dunkirk Senior Center, 45 Franklin Avenue, Dunkirk.

The full findings of the Caregivers of Veterans – Serving on the Homefront study can be found at http://www.unitedhealthfoundation.org/veterans, or, http://www.caregiving.org.

Comments on this article may be sent to mrukavina@observertoday.com

1 Comment »

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