The Hidden Human Cost Of Post-9/11 Wars

There are more than 1 million people taking care of the country’s newest veterans, and they face more challenges than did older generations.

National Journal
Marina Koren
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Marina Koren
April 2, 2014, 6:10 a.m.

There are 5.5. mil­lion people tak­ing care of vet­er­ans across the United States. They bathe and feed them, sched­ule their med­ic­al ap­point­ments, man­age their fin­ances, and watch after their chil­dren. They help war-weary sol­diers be­come a part of ci­vil­ian life again.

Al­most 20 per­cent of them, or 1.1. mil­lion, are help­ing someone who served in the mil­it­ary since the Sept. 11 ter­ror­ist at­tacks, and they are un­like oth­er gen­er­a­tions of mil­it­ary care­givers, ac­cord­ing to a new study from Rand, a non­par­tis­an policy re­search group. The study, which re­search­ers say is the largest ever of mil­it­ary care­givers in the United States, sur­veyed more than 1,100 people.

Like older mil­it­ary care­givers, the people who look after post-9/11 vet­er­ans are hus­bands and wives, par­ents and friends, but they are young­er and more di­verse. They are more likely to care for someone with a men­tal or be­ha­vi­or­al health prob­lem, such as posttrau­mat­ic stress dis­order. They have a full-time job. They don’t have out­side help. And they’re prob­ably vet­er­ans them­selves.

These cir­cum­stances take a toll on the new­est gen­er­a­tion of mil­it­ary care­givers’ work and health, the study found. More than 30 per­cent do not have health in­sur­ance, and their risk for de­pres­sion is four times that of oth­er ci­vil­ians. Twelve per­cent re­port spend­ing more than 40 hours a week tak­ing care of vet­er­ans, com­pared with 10 per­cent of pre-9/11 care­givers who do the same. The new­est care­givers say they miss three-and-a-half days of work a month, while ci­vil­ian care­givers say they miss only one day.

“Caring for a loved one is a de­mand­ing and dif­fi­cult task, of­ten doubly so for care­givers who juggle these activ­it­ies with caring for a fam­ily and the de­mands of a job,” said Ra­jeev Ramchand, the study’s colead­er and a Rand seni­or be­ha­vi­or­al sci­ent­ist. “These care­givers pay a price for their de­vo­tion.”

Rand es­tim­ates that these un­paid care­givers provide $3 bil­lion in ser­vices each year. Last year, 39 per­cent of U.S. adults served as un­paid care­givers to chil­dren, fam­ily, and friends, up from 30 per­cent in 2010, ac­cord­ing to a Pew Re­search sur­vey in June.

The Rand study was com­mis­sioned by the Eliza­beth Dole Found­a­tion, which provides sup­port for mil­it­ary care­givers. Eliza­beth Dole, a former Re­pub­lic­an sen­at­or from North Car­o­lina who served in the Re­agan and first Bush ad­min­is­tra­tions and launched the found­a­tion, wrote in USA TODAY on Tues­day that ser­vices that provide sup­port for mil­it­ary care­givers don’t go far enough. “Amer­ica owes a great debt to those who served in our armed forces, and es­pe­cially those who re­turn home in­jured or emo­tion­ally dam­aged,” she said. “But a great debt is also due to the mil­lions who look after them.”

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