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Supporting military caregivers amid the COVID-19 crisis

Three U.S. Air Force medical Airmen exit a C-17 Globemaster III aircraft following the first-ever operational use of the Transport Isolation System at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, April 10, 2020. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Devin Nothstine)
May 12, 2020

Over the last month, Americans across the country have made sacrifices to abide by stay-at-home orders and prevent the spread of COVID-19. However, for our nation’s military and veteran caregiving community, many of these sacrifices have an even further-reaching impact.

A majority of the veterans that military caregivers support, individuals with serious injuries and illnesses who are often more vulnerable to complications as a result of COVID-19, will be disproportionately affected by this current crisis. Already in an immunocompromised or immunosuppressed state, it’s more important than ever that these wounded veterans and their caregivers take every precaution available and practice social distancing to ensure they limit their risks. 

In the United States, we have an estimated 5.5 million military caregivers providing more than $14 billion of unpaid care for our wounded, ill, and injured warriors each year (RAND, Hidden Heroes: America’s Military Caregivers, 2014).  These caregivers – the spouses, children, siblings, and other loved ones of our wounded warriors – perform at-home medical procedures, manage treatment plans, take over household duties, and often manage childcare and provide sole income for their family. Even under non-crisis circumstances, research has shown that military caregivers suffer from higher rates of depression and physical illness, crippling financial and legal troubles, broken relationships, and family strain. They are also on the frontlines of the veteran suicide crisis, watching for every emotional trigger, and monitoring every change in behavior. 

At the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, we sought to better understand the most pressing needs of the military and veteran caregiver community as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. Within days of launching the survey, we received nearly 1,000 responses from caregivers nationwide.

The results speak for themselves.  56 percent of respondents report lower caregiver effectiveness as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.  More than 75 percent of respondents indicated that the COVID-19 crisis has had a negative impact on wounded warrior care recipients. Nearly half of respondents indicated one or more immediate needs:

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  • Delivery of medical supplies (e.g., gloves, masks, alcohol wipes) to be able to provide care at home 
  • Mental health support for wounded warriors
  • Financial assistance due to lack of income
  • Family recreational and social support
  • Keeping up a sense of community

While conversations about re-opening businesses may have begun in DC, returning to normal is still a long way down the road for many of these families given the vulnerability of some conditions.  These heroes have stood up for our nation time and time again, and it is our responsibility to do the same for them. We certainly expect some of these needs to evolve and change, and we want to be there for our military community when they need us.  To learn more about the resources we have created for military caregivers and families like yours, visit www.hiddenheroes.org/coronavirus

Rashi Venkataraman Romanoff serves as the Vice President for Programs and Partnerships for the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, where she oversees all programs and is steering new strategic partnerships to enhance the Foundation’s reach and resources. Prior to joining the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, Rashi worked at America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) as their Executive Director for Prevention and Population Health. Originally from Pittsburgh, PA, Rashi is an experienced health care professional with a demonstrated history of working in the public and private sectors. From 2010 to 2017, Rashi worked at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), starting as a Presidential Management Fellow and eventually serving as the Director of Operations for the VA Center for Strategic Partnerships. A graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, Rashi holds a Bachelor’s degree in Biology and Public Policy and a Master’s Degree in Health Care Policy & Management. She is also the previous recipient of the Fulbright Scholarship (2008) and Presidential Management Fellowship (2010).

All opinion articles are the opinion of the author and not necessarily of American Military News. If you are interested in submitting an Op-Ed, please email [email protected]