Those caregivers include spouses, parents and friends. Many provide care without a formal support network and are putting their own health at risk, according to the findings from the RAND Corp., a nonprofit research organization.
"After more than a decade of war, the toll faced by the nation's caregivers who aid veterans and military members is large and can be expected to grow in the decades ahead," said study co-leader author Terri Tanielian, a senior social research analyst at RAND, in a corporation news release. "Until now, the needs of this group have been poorly understood."
Compared to other groups of caregivers, people who care for veterans who served after 9/11 are younger, typically work outside the home, and are more likely to care for someone with emotional and behavioral problems, the researchers found.
Caregivers of these veterans provide about $3 billion in care each year and save the nation huge amounts in long-term care costs, the researchers said. Care often includes assistance with bathing and eating, making medical appointments, managing finances, looking after children, and helping to deal with situations that could worsen mental health issues.
Despite the significant contributions of these caregivers, few public or private programs offer direct support to caregivers of post-9/11 veterans, the researchers found.
"There is an acute shortage of efforts to provide services directly for military caregivers. There is a particular need for programs that focus on the younger caregivers who aid the newest veterans," study co-leader Rajeev Ramchand, a senior behavioral scientist, said in the RAND news release.
Nearly 20 percent of the 5.5 million caregivers of veterans in the United States assist a veteran who served in the military since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, according to the researchers. They surveyed more than 1,100 caregivers of veterans and compared them to other groups of caregivers and to noncaregivers.
The investigators found that:
- 12 percent of post-9/11 military caregivers and 10 percent of pre-9/11 military caregivers spend more than 40 hours a week giving care.
- Post-9/11 military caregivers miss 3.5 days of work a month, compared to one day a month missed by civilian caregivers. The value of this lost productivity is about $5.9 billion a year, and the lost wages add to the financial struggles of these caregivers.
- Military caregivers have more health issues, greater strains in family relationships and more workplace problems than their peers who aren't caregivers, the study found. These issues were most severe among post-9/11 military caregivers.
The study also found that post-9/11 military caregivers are four times more likely to suffer depression than noncaregivers. Also, 30 percent of post-9/11 military caregivers lack health insurance, which means they face added barriers to looking after their own health.
"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," Ramchand said. "These caregivers pay a price for their devotion."
The researchers identified over 100 programs that claim to offer services to military caregivers, but few of them cater directly to caregivers. Most focus on the veteran, with family caregivers invited to participate.
Programs that do target caregivers typically focus on older caregivers, not the younger ones who provide care to post-9/11 veterans, the study said.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about veterans and military health.