Caregivers of military and veterans need support

AMES, Iowa – Many service members and veterans with physical and mental illnesses and injuries receive care and support from family and friends. These caregivers help the people they care for have a better quality of life. Yet playing this role can exact a heavy physical, emotional and financial toll on caregivers.

Those who care for the military and veterans are hidden heroes, said Malisa Rader, a humanities scholar at Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. Veterans more frequently suffer from traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, diabetes, paralysis or spinal cord injury. Military and veteran caregivers sacrifice their livelihoods, health and well-being as they support care recipients with panic attacks and chronic mental and physical disorders and help them navigate the health system. They also save the United States $14 billion each year in volunteer labor.

“These caregivers play a critical role in caring for injured or injured service members and veterans. This allows those they care for to live higher quality lives and can lead to improved rehabilitation and recovery, but the toll on their own well-being can be high,” said Rader, who specializes in family well-being.

ISU Extension and Outreach is offering a telehealth course titled “Powerful Tools for Military and Veteran Caregivers” beginning Oct. 5 at 6:30 p.m. This educational offering provides information, support strategies, communication techniques, stress reduction ideas and resources to help family caregivers of veterans and military personnel with their caregiving concerns. The course will be led by certified class leaders, most with military experience. To register or find more information, visit or contact [email protected]

The Elizabeth Dole Foundation commissioned the first comprehensive national study of military caregivers. During this research, the RAND Company noted that there are 5.5 million caregivers for former or current military personnel in the United States, of which 1.1 million are caring for military veterans who served after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. There are unique circumstances surrounding military caregivers, especially those caring for young people who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan:

  • Caregivers after 9/11 tend to be younger and juggle work and caregiving duties. Most don’t have a support network.
  • They are four times more likely than non-caregivers to be depressed.
  • A third of caregivers after 9/11 do not have health insurance.
  • They typically help their military care recipients deal with stressful situations or other emotional and behavioral challenges.

Additionally, their caregiving journey begins earlier in life (85% are under age 40) and lasts longer, according to Caregiving in the US 2020, a report by AARP and the National Alliance on Caregiving.

Data from Caregivers of Veterans: Serving on the Home Front, commissioned by the National Alliance for Caregiving and the United Health Foundation, showed the following:

  • 96% of veterans’ caregivers are women.
  • 70% provide care for their spouse or partner.
  • 30% of caregivers of veterans care for 10 years or more compared to 15% of caregivers nationally.
  • 88% report increased stress or anxiety as a result of caregiving.
  • 77% say sleep deprivation is a problem.

“Remember, you can’t pour from an empty cup,” Rader said. “The end result can be poor health, mental distress and lower life satisfaction for the caregiver. When the caregiver suffers, Veterans suffer with their families and communities.

Powerful tools for caregivers can help military and veteran caregivers get the tools and resources they need to care for themselves and their loved ones, Rader said.

Photo credit: Chaay_tee/

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