Caregivers of Veterans Face Greater Stress, More Years of Care than the National Average, Yet Are Proud to Serve
WASHINGTON (Nov. 10, 2010) – The first national study to give a voice to family caregivers of
veterans reveals that they are twice as likely as family caregivers1 of adults overall to consider their
situation highly stressful, and yet 94 percent of them are proud to serve.
The study, released today by the National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC) and funded by United Health
Foundation, finds that family caregivers of veterans face a higher burden of care, both in intensity and
duration, often supporting a spouse or partner over a longer period of time than typical family caregivers.
These caregivers also are predominantly women (96 percent) compared to the national average (65
percent), and many make sacrifices to their own health and jobs to care for their loved ones.
The Caregivers of Veterans - Serving on the Homefront study is the first in-depth look at family
caregivers of veterans and provides unique insights into the effects of caregiving for a veteran on the
caregivers’ own health, work and home life. The study also provides a look at caregiving across the age
spectrum representing caregivers of veterans from World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War,
Desert Storm, Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“The family caregivers who serve our country’s veterans are making huge sacrifices in terms of their own
health, careers and home life,” said Reed Tuckson, M.D., United Health Foundation board member and
executive vice president and chief of medical affairs, UnitedHealth Group. “The data indicate that these
‘homefront heroes’ are proud to serve in the role of caregiver for their loved ones. Yet it is incumbent
upon all of us to help them find support and solutions to preserve their own health and well being, as well
as that of the veteran. It is important that relatives, friends, and neighbors seek out opportunities to
provide respite and other supportive services to these caregivers.”
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs projects that there are more than 23 million U.S. veterans. A
previous NAC study on caregiving nationwide found that more than 10 million people are caring for a
veteran, and nearly seven million of them are veterans themselves.
“The care of a veteran is unique, and in many ways these caregivers are facing even greater challenges
than other family caregivers,” said Gail Hunt, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Caregiving.
“This report serves as a reminder that we need to come together to make sure caregivers have adequate
resources and support.”
Nine Out of 10 Caregivers of Veterans Are Women
The responsibilities of caring for a loved one have traditionally fallen to women. The Caregivers of
Veterans - Serving on the Homefront study found that 96 percent of caregivers of veterans are women,
and 70 percent provide care for a spouse or a partner. Most of these women are the sole providers of care
– only one-third has received help from paid caregivers.
The study also found that 30 percent of these caregivers are part of the classic “Sandwich Generation” –
balancing caring for their veteran and caring for children under the age of 18. This situation can take a toll
on family dynamics. Of the caregivers with children in their home, 69 percent report spending less time
with their children than they would like. Fifty-seven percent report that their children or grandchildren
have experienced emotional or school problems as a result of their caregiving or the veteran’s condition.
Caregivers of Veterans Bear Heavier Burden of Care for Longer
Compared to caregivers nationally, caregivers of veterans are twice as likely to be in their caregiving role
for 10 years or longer (30 percent vs. 15 percent). They also are twice as likely to be in a high-burden
caregiving role and to consider their situation highly stressful.
One contributing factor to these caregivers’ stress and burden is the veteran’s health conditions, which
often include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (60 percent), mental health conditions such as
depression or anxiety (70 percent), and traumatic brain injury (TBI) (29 percent). Study respondents also
report feeling stressed say they avoid situations that could be stressful for their veteran and trigger anxiety
or antisocial behavior. Eighty-six percent report that they need to remind or give cues to the veteran about
what he or she should be doing.
One caregiver in the study said: “We moved the [family reunion] to an outdoor venue so the walls won’t
be closed in around him...I talk him through scenarios…that kind of prepping does help him reduce his
Caregivers of Veterans Make Sacrifices to Their Own Health and Work to Care for Loved One,
But Are Overwhelmingly Proud to Serve
Many caregivers of veterans report that their own health has been impacted due to the intensity of their
caregiving responsibilities. A majority of caregivers of veterans report declines in their own healthy
behaviors, such as exercising (69 percent), good eating habits (56 percent) and going to one’s own doctor
and dentist appointments on schedule (58 percent) and previous studies have shown that caregivers tend
to neglect their own health and well-being when they become a caregiver.2 Similar proportions
have weight gain/loss (66 percent) or experience depression (63 percent). Eighty-eight percent report
feeling increased stress or anxiety, and 77 percent report sleep deprivation.
Women are half of all U.S. workers,3 and mothers are the primary breadwinners or co-breadwinners in
nearly two-thirds of American families.4 Yet, caregivers of veterans often are forced to make tradeoffs
with their careers and financial stability in order to take care of their loved ones. Forty-three percent of
caregivers of veterans report that they provide more than 40 hours a week of care, the equivalent of a fulltime
job. Of the 68 percent who were employed while caregiving, 47 percent say they had to take early
retirement or stop working entirely, and 62 percent had to cut back the hours in their regular work
One caregiver in the study stated: “It was said that [my caregiving activities] were not my responsibilities
and that I should vacate that role or I would lose my job. I took another job that is very accommodating,
but I took a severe pay cut of 25 percent to 30 percent, and I lost my health and dental [benefits].”
Despite the sacrifices, caregivers of veterans are overwhelmingly proud of the service they provide to
their loved one. Ninety-four percent feel proud of the support they provide; 78 percent feel a sense of
reward from having gained knowledge and skills through caregiving; and 67 percent find caregiving to be
Caregivers Turn to Professionals, Online Resources and Support Groups for Help
When looking for support or advice, caregivers most often depend on word-of-mouth (70 percent), which
63 percent find helpful. In addition, 65 percent of caregivers of veterans who have a care manager say
their care managers have been helpful locating, arranging and coordinating care and resources for the
veteran. Forty-three percent feel the care manager has been helpful finding support for the caregiver
Online forums, groups or blogs are rated as helpful (74 percent) by the 48 percent of caregivers of
veterans who turn to them. Caregivers taking care of younger veterans are more likely to turn to these
online resources by a wide margin, followed by the Department of Defense military system and Military
OneSource, whereas those caring for an older veteran are more likely to turn to local government or
Other sources of information rated as particularly helpful include disease-specific organizations and inperson
NOTE TO EDITORS: The full findings of the Caregivers of Veterans - Serving on the Homefront
study can be found at www.unitedhealthfoundation.org/veterans or www.caregiving.org.
About the Study/Methodology
This report is based primarily on a quantitative online survey with 462 self-identified family caregivers,
age 18 or older, who provide care to a veteran whose injury, illness or condition is related to military
In addition, the report includes findings from six focus groups that were held to guide the development of
the questionnaire and 45 in-depth telephone interviews conducted with respondents to the online survey.
The full questionnaire is presented in Appendix A to the study report.
About the National Alliance for Caregiving
Established in 1996, the National Alliance for Caregiving is a non-profit coalition of national
organizations focusing on issues of family caregiving. The Alliance was created to conduct research, do
policy analysis, develop national programs, and increase public awareness of family caregiving issues.
Recognizing that family caregivers make important societal and financial contributions toward
maintaining the well-being of those for whom they care, the Alliance’s mission is to be the objective
national resource on family caregiving with the goal of improving the quality of life for families and care
recipients. For more information, visit www.caregiving.org.
About United Health Foundation
Guided by a passion to help people live healthier lives, United Health Foundation provides helpful
information to support decisions that lead to better health outcomes and healthier communities. The
Foundation also supports activities that expand access to quality health care services for those in
challenging circumstances and partners with others to improve the well being of communities. Since
established by UnitedHealth Group [NYSE: UNH] in 1999 as a not-for-profit, private foundation, the
Foundation has committed more than $176 million to improve health and health care. For more
information, visit www.unitedhealthfoundation.org.
1 All national caregiver statistical comparisons referenced are from “Caregiving in the U.S.” (2009, NAC in collaboration with
AARP) and pertain to caregivers of adults 18 or older.
2 Evercare Study of Caregivers in Decline: A Close-up Look at the Health Risks of Caring for a Loved One. Report of Findings.
3 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
4 “The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Changes Everything”, By Maria Shriver and the Center for American Progress, edited
by Heather Boushey and Ann O'Leary, October 16, 2009