Paralyzed Veterans of America joins the nation in recognizing the contributions of caregivers during National Family Caregivers Month in November
More than 65 million people – 29 percent of the U.S. population – care for a chronically ill, disabled or aged family member or friend in any given year and spend an average of 20 hours per week providing care for their loved one, according to statistics by the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP.
More than one million of those caregivers provide emotional and physical support to military veterans with injuries and/or service-connected diseases and disorders. Commonly called America’s “hidden heroes,” military caregivers provide this free care often at great personal sacrifice, leaving many prone to stress, financial difficulties and health issues, such as fatigue, depression and physical pain.
“As a veteran whose livelihood is sustained by a caregiver, I deeply appreciate the effort to bring attention to the plight of caregivers,” said Sherman Gillums, Jr., deputy executive director of Paralyzed Veterans of America. “Next to military service, I cannot think of a more noble cause one can undertake, often at great sacrifice.”
In 1997, President Clinton signed a proclamation to designate one week in November in recognition of the contributions of caregivers. It quickly evolved into National Family Caregivers Month and now serves as more than a time of recognition but a means to educate the public, promote the rights of caregivers and empower individuals in caregiving roles.
“When our men and women in uniform come home with wounds of war — seen or unseen — it is our solemn responsibility to ensure they get the benefits and attentive care they have earned and deserve,” said President Obama in a proclamation recognizing the 2015 National Family Caregivers Month. “Caregivers in every corner of our country uphold this sacred promise with incredible devotion to their loved ones, and my administration is committed to supporting them.”
The wellness and well-being of the caregiver directly impacts the ability to help a veteran with spinal cord injury/disease or polytrauma. For that reason, Paralyzed Veterans of America has long included caregivers as part of its advocacy for veterans.
That advocacy includes pushing for legislation that would expand caregiver support services – the top legislative priority for Paralyzed Veterans in 2015. The “Military and Veteran Caregiver Services Improvement Act of 2015 (S. 1085 and H.R. 1969),” introduced in April by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I., would expand eligibility for the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Comprehensive Family Caregiver Program by eliminating the requirement that comprehensive caregiver benefits be provided only to caregivers of veterans with a service-connected injury incurred after Sept. 11, 2001.
In addition to advocating for caregiver benefits, Paralyzed Veterans of America has worked to ensure the employment and work-life balance needs of caregivers are met. Paralyzed Veterans of America’s award-winning vocational rehabilitation program, Operation PAVE (Paving Access for Veteran Employment), provides free one-on-one career counseling and assistance to veterans and their caregivers. A recently published resource, “Paving Access to Employment for America’s Hidden Heroes,” also helps employers create caregiver-friendly workplaces.
Meanwhile, a 2014 report commissioned by the Dole Foundation and conducted by RAND Corporation unveiled some alarming gaps in support for veteran caregivers. The report identified several programs to strengthen and empower military caregivers, including building their skills, mitigating stresses, building greater support networks, ensuring workplace flexibility and raising public awareness of their value.
In February, Paralyzed Veterans of America joined with the Dole Foundation and other national organizations to develop an action plan for implementing the RAND report’s recommendations. The Hidden Heroes Impact Forum resulted in the development of seven impact councils made up of national organizations to focus on addressing gaps in caregiver support services.
“The problem is caregivers don’t receive medals or parades or ‘thank you for your service’ from strangers,” Gillums said.
“However, their heroism is a sustained and emotionally taxing sort where the only reward is the smile they bring to the face of their loved one. I’m glad we celebrate November as National Family Caregivers Month, but we need to keep them in our forethought all year long.”