heather-ansleyOne of our core beliefs at VetsFirst is that disabled veterans must have timely access to quality Department of Veterans Affairs health care and benefits. Veterans who are unable to access these needed services and benefits may be unable to reintegrate into their communities. For many veterans living with disabilities, family caregivers play a crucial role in providing the assistance that allows them to return to and remain in their homes.

The sacrifice of family caregivers not only supports veterans, but also VA’s mission to take care of those veterans. Without the support of a family caregiver, many would be unable to live in the community. Spouses and family members often must leave the workforce, to assist their husbands, wives and adult children. Leaving the workforce may result in lost income and other benefits, including health insurance.

A recent study by the RAND Corp. (available online at www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR499.html) gives the first research-based view of the impact on these caregivers. The study, “Hidden Heroes: America’s Military Caregivers,” found that 5.5 million individuals are serving as caregivers for service members and veterans living with disabilities. Of those caregivers, 1.1 million are providing caregiving services for veterans and service members who served post-9/11. Veterans’ children make up the largest group of caregivers for pre-9/11 veterans, while veterans’ spouses represent the largest group of caregivers for post-9/11 veterans.

The study found that the burdens of caregiving can have a negative impact on caregivers. For example, caregivers have worse health outcomes, both mentally and physically, when compared with their non-caregiver peers. Caregivers also have decreased marital and relationship satisfaction, and increased difficulty in balancing work and caregiving duties.

For caregivers of post-9/11 veterans, the burdens are even greater. RAND found that these caregivers are less likely to have a support network and are more likely to be balancing caregiving with employment. They are also less likely to