It’s often difficult for caregivers and family members of veterans to understand why their loved one has feelings of loneliness, detachment, and despair, and how that can impact their own life. This is why it’s so important to understand the role of a veteran caregiver, and the extent that being a caregiver affects their lives and the lives of those around them. 1
As of 2016, approximately 18.5 million veterans were living in the United States.2 Approximately 1 out of every 10 veterans deal with substance use disorders.3 This means that there are millions of friends and family of veterans working to support their loved ones.
Are You a Caregiver?
You may be a caregiver of a veteran currently, though you may or may not define yourself as such. Being a caregiver is a diverse role, and can involve:
- Providing extensive care to a veteran, such as assisting with bathing, and feeding him or her, or changing feeding tubes or bandages daily.
- Reminding your loved one to take his or her medicine or taking them to appointments.
You might be a relative who is a caregiver, such as a son, or wife of a veteran who need care. However, friends and neighbors of veteran may step in to handle these types of tasks in a veteran’s care, too.4
Issues that Impact Veterans Caregivers and Families
In some cases, choosing to take on the role of a veteran caregiver is no easy task. Understanding how to care for veterans and help them navigate through their issues is often complex and can lead to frustration in both the veteran and those who act as their caregivers.
The caregiver may be confused as to why their loved one isn’t happy to be home again, or why he or she feels so sad or angry all the time. Caregivers may also feel guilty that they are not as happy to see the veteran return home as they thought they would be.
When a veteran is struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, or substance abuse, a caregiver may also experience frustration and anger of their own.
For example, many veterans are working hard to manage symptoms that are associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), however, their substance use disorder creates another layer of concern. PTSD and substance use disorder are prevalent among veterans, and this is something that family members and their caregivers should be aware of.5
Codependency Issues Among Veteran Families
A person is considered codependent when they live to fulfill the needs of others and make their own needs secondary to that of another person. There are several patterns of behavior associated with codependent people, where they:6
- Cannot say no.
- Always put others first.
- Deny their own needs.
- Have problems trusting others.
- Struggle with self-doubt.
- Find it difficult to express feelings.
Codependency issues can lead to involvement in negative relationships, find it very hard to not be in a relationship, and depression.
How to Help Veterans and their Families
Many of the things veterans or their families experience are through no fault of their own and they should not feel embarrassed or ashamed about asking for help. There are several programs offered through the VA to help veterans and their caregivers deal with the issues they face.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Treatment for Veterans
The stress of caregiving can become overwhelming when a veteran has PTSD or a substance use disorder. Luckily, Veterans Affairs (VA) offers several resources for veterans and their caregivers.
The VA recognizes that veterans are multifaceted and so are their needs, and therefore has assistance programs to address veterans, their family members, and caregivers, no matter their circumstances. There are programs available to assist veterans by gender, sexual orientation. The organization also has resources for those who are transitioning from military to civilian life.7
The VA offers a number of mental health and substance abuse treatment programs. Sometimes, however, the VA may struggle to offer services to all the veterans in need at any given time.
Some veterans need treatment who do not live near a VA facility, nor does the VA always have the exact providers needed for a specific type of treatment. Therefore, the VA created the Community Care Providers program, which allows private providers to contract with the VA to provide care to veterans when care is not readily available with the VA. Veterans work through the VA to access this care with the Community Care Providers network.
American Addiction Centers (AAC) is a community care provider which offers services tailored to the needs of veterans. AAC developed the Salute to Recovery program, which offers services to veterans at two locations: Desert Hope in Las Vegas, Nevada, and Recovery First, in Hollywood, FL. Salute to Recovery offers programs that understand the needs of veterans, and many of the staff members at the Salute to Recovery programs are veterans.
VA Caregiver Resources
The VA offers numerous types of treatment and supportive services for veteran families. These include:
- VA Caregiver Support, which offers a state-by-state listing of VA programs to support caregivers.
- A listing of classes and peer support for caregivers
- Programs designed to help offset the costs of caring for a veteran
All of these programs for family members of veterans can help caregivers to get more support, both emotional and financial, and help to ease the stress of caregiving.
Why Self Care is Important
Without taking care of yourself, you are much more likely to end up suffering from many of the outcomes associated with burnout:8
- Sleep disorders.
- Social isolation.
- Weight gain.
- Numerous physical aches and pains.
- Weakened immune system.
- Stomach problems.
Coping with stress in healthy ways can alleviate some or even all of these potential outcomes, which can, in turn, allow you to better care for the veteran in your life, and of yourself.
About American Addiction Centers
American Addiction Centers (AAC) offers medical treatment and believable hope for veterans. We recognize that veterans face a unique set of challenges when seeking addiction treatment; AAC’s facilities are equipped to treat individuals with PTSD and other co-occurring mental health disorders.
Salute to Recovery is AAC’s veterans substance abuse program. The program is available at Desert Hope Treatment Center in Nevada and Recovery First Treatment Center in Florida. Salute to Recovery blends AAC’s medically informed, patient-centric approach to treatment with therapies that address co-occurring disorders that may affect military veterans. Most of the staff involved in Salute to Recovery are veterans or come from military families. This helps them connect with the veterans receiving treatment and help them move towards a life in recovery.
No veteran should have to suffer in silence. There are several methods to help you find peace and start your life in recovery.
- National Center for PTSD. (2014) Effects of PTSD on Family.
- The United States Census Bureau. (2017). Veterans Day.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2013). Substance Use and Military Life.
- U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2014). Support for Caregivers
- U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2014). Treatment of Co-Occurring PTSD and Substance Use Disorder in VA.
- FITNYC.edu. Codependency: Caring until it hurts.
- National Center for PTSD. (2014). Sleep Problems in Veterans with PTSD.
- U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2014). “I Am a……”
- Wei, M (2018). Self-care for the caregiver. Harvard Medical School Health Publishing.