Each day, more than 65 million caregivers in the U.S. fulfill a vital role in ensuring continuity of care – from helping with daily tasks to managing the diet, exercise and medicine regimen – for their loved ones. November, which marks National Family Caregivers Month, is a time to recognize these individuals who serve as the unacknowledged backbone of the nation’s long-term care system.
For veterans with spinal cord injury or other catastrophic injury or illness, caregivers can make the difference in eliminating the need for lengthy stays in hospitals, long-term care facilities or nursing homes. Each day, caregivers are assisting veterans with dementia, memory problems, traumatic brain injury (TBI), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and/or other serious injuries and illnesses.
The National Family Caregivers Association began promoting awareness of family caregivers in 1994 during the week of Thanksgiving. In 1997, President Clinton signed the first presidential proclamation, and every president since has issued an annual proclamation recognizing family caregivers during the month of November.
The National Alliance for Caregiving estimates that 30 percent of the U.S. adult population at any time is providing care to a family member or friend, with $450 billion spent out of pocket annually by these caregivers to help provide care to a loved one. In addition, nearly 80 percent of caregivers want more help or information about caregiving topics but do not know where to turn.
The Department of Veterans Affairs has launched a new effort to help mitigate those trends through the offering of a free six-week online workshop for family caregivers of veterans. The Building Better Caregivers Workshop enables participants to log on two to three times each week to review lessons, exchange ideas and access tools that can help them with a variety of skills like time and stress management, health eating, exercising and dealing with difficult emotions.
The workshop program, which was developed at Stanford University, has been recognized for its ability to reduce stress and depression and increase overall well-being for caregivers. Those interested in participating in the workshop should contact a local Caregiver Support Coordinator, which can be found by visiting this link and entering your zip code.
The VA also is promoting to caregivers access to its HealtheVet program, a personal health record that allows veterans, service members and their caregivers to access health information and information about VA benefits and services. Caregivers who register an account with HealtheVet can use the tool to help track their health measures such a blood pressure, weight and pain levels, and can self-enter information on their health history or family health history.
As part of National Family Caregivers Month, take time to thank, support, educate and empower family caregivers by contacting your national and local government representatives and raising awareness about caregiver issues, particularly those caring for our nation’s veterans.
Read more about caregivers for veterans
Brittany Ballenstedt is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in several publications, including Government Executive, National Journal, Technology Daily and NextGov.com.