4 Things to Know BEFORE Becoming a Military Caregiver

The role of caregiver is an important one, but rarely one that is anticipated or prepared for. Yet, many unsuspecting spouses, parents, family members, and friends have found themselves assuming this role without warning to care for a wounded, ill, or injured service member. 

We know that behind every wounded service member is a wounded family who bears their own battle scars. These caregivers need support too. If you find yourself in the caregiver role, there will be many responsibilities you may not be familiar with, or resources you may not be aware of.  To help navigate the roles and responsivities of caring for your wounded, ill or injured service member, we think these resources are invaluable:

  1. Service-Specific Wounded Programs

    Most often, your first point of contact will be your service member’s branch-specific wounded program. If they are not assigned to these programs right away, your service member might be referred by their primary care manager (PCM) or specialist first. If they aren’t, be sure to ask the medical team handling your service member’s care, or contact the programs directly to learn more information.

    Army Warrior Transition Command * 703.428.7118

    Marine Corps Wounded Warrior Regiment * 1.877.487.6299

    Air Force Wounded Warrior Program * 1.800.581.9437

    Navy Safe Harbor * 1.855.628.9997 (The Safe Harbor program also serves Coast Guardsmen.)

    We recommend you also access a copy of The Wounded, Ill, and Injured Compensation and Benefits Handbook. It provides service members and their families access to the vital information they need during recovery, rehabilitation, and reintegration.

  2. Taking Care of Your Recovering Warrior

    Sometimes you may find yourself in need of information from someone who has experienced the caregiver role first hand. Seasoned caregivers created a peer-to-peer guide called “Tips from Caregivers to Caregivers” designed to help shorten your learning curve and support you on this new journey.  Complete with tips on what to ask your medical team, this guide is a great all-in-one resource for finding your "new normal.”

  3. Know Your Benefits

    May caregivers find themselves wondering what benefits may be available to them based on their service member’s specific situation. If eligible, your job may be protected under an expanded version of the Family Leave & Medical Act. The Military Family Leave provisions provide 26 weeks of leave per 12 month period for family members/next of kin caring for their wounded service member, as well as several other protections associated with becoming their caregiver. 

    The DoD Caregiver Benefit program can provide a special monthly stipend to service members who have a permanent catastrophic injury or illness and who require assistance with activities of daily living, or who are at a high risk for personal safety and cannot live independently without caregiver support. Additionally, the VA Caregiver Benefit provides for a variety of benefits (to include a monthly stipend and access to health insurance) to assist eligible caregivers in providing care to their wounded veteran.

  4. Take Care of Yourself

    While your attention is completely focused on your recovering service member, it’s important to remember that you should also take care of your own needs, too. You may be thinking to yourself, “that’s easier said than done.” If you don’t make sure that you’re eating well, getting enough sleep, or finding time to breathe, it may be time to ask for help. 

    We recommend keeping a list of those family members or friends who have offered to help, and schedule time to let them do so. Try delegating tasks before you find yourself at wits end. If you find that you’re approaching burnout, we also recommend seeking some counseling or attending a peer support group with other military caregivers.

Our Association strongly believes wounded families bear their own battle scars, and it is the responsibility of our nation to ensure the emotional, financial, and readjustment requirements of families like yours are met. 

On May 15, NMFA joined the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, along with other members of its National Coalition in sending a letter to VA Secretary Shulkin regarding the VA Caregiver Program. Outlined in this letter were several key recommendations for improving support of, and services for, the quality and consistency of the programs available to our nation’s hidden heroes and their families.

Posted May 30, 2017


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