Family member taking care of Veteran.

Tips and Resources for a Different Kind of Hero: Our Military Caregivers

Your role as a caregiver is an essential part of our country’s pledge to honor and care for our military members and Veterans. You deserve the support you need to be your best.

Our nation’s military members and Veterans deserve our very best. And each day, 5.5 million military caregivers dedicate themselves to providing it. Spouses, parents, family members and friends give their best care, love and support to our wounded, ill or injured military members and Veterans.

Caregiving can be an amazing experience. You may find great joy in the connections you establish and the closeness you share with your loved one. But caregiving is also full of unexpected challenges. When you begin your journey, you haven’t had any experience or training, and your new role may come with all kinds of difficult questions and new emotions.

No matter where you are on your journey, check out the tips and resources provided in this article to ensure you’re taking the best care of yourself and getting the support you need along the way.

Tips for Military Caregivers

With every new task, there is a learning curve. We don’t begin this journey as caregiving experts. And each caregiver’s journey has unique challenges. These tips aim to address some of the common threads that caregivers may experience:

  • Take a moment. No matter where you are on your caregiving journey or how you feel today, take a moment to realize you aren’t alone. You aren’t the first person to leave a doctor’s appointment lost or confused. You’re not the first person to break down after a hard day of caregiving. You’re not the first person who has had bills go unpaid as you undergo this life-changing experience. You are one of millions of military caregivers who can relate to what you’re experiencing. You and your loved ones deserve support and connection along the way.
  • Get organized. With caregiving comes appointments, follow-up appointments, paperwork, bills and more. Develop a system to help you stay organized (and sane). The National Military Family Association offers a caregiving workbook that outlines some organizational tips such as starting a calendar to keep track of appointments, keeping a journal with daily reflections that notes changes or questions you want to follow up about, maintaining an up-to-date medication list, and more.
  • Assign tasks to others you trust. What parts of your loved one’s care can you delegate to someone else comfortably? For example, can you task one family member with providing updates to the rest of the family so you only have to make one phone call instead of 20? Can someone you trust be responsible for laundry or daily meals? You may have many parts of your caregiving routine that you feel strongly about keeping, but it can be helpful to find tasks you can share with others.
  • Son helping Veteran father in wheelchair.Accept help. Not just from family and friends, but from organizations designed to support you. You don’t have to feel ashamed if you’re struggling financially or need some help with your caregiving duties. You don’t have to feel guilty if you need to take some time for yourself. Consider options like those from the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, such as financial assistance or respite care, so that you can get the break you deserve.
  • Learn more about your Veteran’s condition. We aren’t all trained experts or health care professionals, but the more we know, the more confident we can be as caregivers. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Caregiver Support Program offers fact sheets written in plain language to help caregivers better understand their Veteran’s diagnosis. Learn more about a particular condition, what physical or mental changes you may notice, specific tips, helpful resources and more.
  • Become a part of your Veteran’s health care team. As a caregiver, your voice matters. Don’t be intimidated by a health care system that may seem overwhelming at times. Go to each appointment prepared with questions and notes or bring someone with you if you’re worried about understanding everything. Write things down while you’re there and ask for clarification if you need it.
  • Develop a list of helpful resources and use them. The Elizabeth Dole Foundation has a list of organizations they have vetted and approved that can provide you with the assistance you need. You can search resources by location, injury type, what kind of care you’re looking for and more.
  • Take care of your health. To be at your best, you need enough sleep, an outlet for your stress, nourishing foods and enough physical activity. Find the time to take care of yourself and address your own health care needs, so you can be ready for the demands of caregiving. Check in with your health care provider, explain your role as a caregiver and make sure you have a plan to keep yourself healthy throughout your journey.
  • Create a scheduled break. It may seem unnecessary, but it’s easier than you think to let days or weeks go by without taking time for yourself. Find something daily or weekly that is just for you and put it on the calendar – maybe a weekly yoga class, a daily walk with a friend or an hour to shower and watch your favorite show.
  • Connect with others. Search the Elizabeth Dole Foundation’s website and read several caregiver stories to make yourself feel less alone. You can search by the type of wound you’re caring for, your loved one’s era of service or military branch, your location, and more. For example, if you’re a mom caring for a wounded daughter or an LGBTQ+ person caring for your partner, read stories that mirror yours, listen to their struggles, hear their triumphs and learn about the resources that had the most impact on their journey.
  • Be OK with imperfection. Your days won’t always go well. Some appointments will end in frustration. Sometimes you’ll wait longer than you should for an answer. Some days you’ll yell or lash out at someone you love. It won’t be perfect and that’s OK. Tomorrow is another day.

Helpful Resources for Military Caregivers

Your role as a caregiver is an essential part of our country’s pledge to honor and care for our military members and Veterans. You deserve the support you need to be your best.

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