Caregivers of Veterans Report High Stress and Sacrifice

For family members of veterans, caregiving is a full-time job with its own unique challenges.

As we pay tribute to the nation’s service men and women this Veteran’s Day, Americans should also recognize the tremendous sacrifices of those who care for them—a job that is equal parts stressful and rewarding, according to a new national survey.

“Caregivers of Veterans—Serving on the Homefront” provides insight into the unique experiences of the spouses, parents, and other family members who have taken on the role of caregiver for a veteran. The study, conducted by the United Health Foundation in partnership with the National Alliance for Caregiving, highlights the need for increased support for these individuals, who play a crucial role in the health care system.

Veterans’ caregivers account for 17% of the nation’s 62 million family caregivers. They are predominately women (96%), and are more likely than other caregivers to report their situation as “highly stressful,” according to the study. They are also twice as likely to occupy their role for 10 years or longer.

Many of the survey’s participants said they had been forced to make professional compromises—including cutting back hours, taking pay cuts, leaving work entirely, or retiring early—in order to fulfill the responsibilities of caring for their loved one. Healthy habits, such as exercising and eating right, also fell by the wayside.

Another major stressor for veterans' caregivers is the high prevalence of physical disability and mental or emotional health issues among veterans. A total of 70% of caregivers reported that their veteran suffers from depression or anxiety, and 60% reported incidence of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Despite these considerable challenges and sacrifices, veterans’ caregivers typically view their role as an extension of their loved one’s commitment to service—94% said they were “proud to serve.” Their willingness and capacity to serve should not deter friends, neighbors, and health providers from offering additional support, however.

“The data indicate that these ‘homefront heroes’ are proud to serve in the role of caregiver for their loved ones,” said Reed Tuckson, MD, United Health Foundation board member and executive vice president and chief of medical affairs at UnitedHealth Group. “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,” he added.

For a full review of the survey’s findings, view the original press release issued by the United Health Foundation.