Military Caregiver Study Findings Left Me Stunned


A newly released study found something that stunned even me – there are 1.1 million post-9/11 military caregivers in the US.

As the program coordinator for Operation Homefront’s wounded warrior caregiver support program Hearts of Valor and a Elizabeth Dole Foundation fellow, I live and breathe the military caregiver world. My own husband was severely injured in 2006. Caregiving is what I know.

Hearts of Valor, a non-profit focused on post-9/11 caregivers, has 1,600 members. That means well over one million caregivers are missing out on a support network of other wounded warrior spouses and family members.

Let me say that again: one million.

The study by the RAND Corp, released March 31, found that the total military caregiver population is estimated to be much, much higher at 5.5 million.

As an Elizabeth Dole Foundation fellow I was able, with 19 other caregivers, to help RAND formulate the questions for the study.

Post 9/11 military and veteran caregivers tend to be much younger than those civilian counterparts. The study’s findings supported this. I have noticed that when I try to research resources for the military and veteran caregivers the topics are more focused on the aging population. Some of the resources available simply aren’t applicable because of this. “40 percent of these caregivers are between 18 and 30” and they will be caring for their veteran for many decades to come.

This leaves us at a high risk for burn out, divorce and mental health challenges. That’s something we already knew antecedently. Now we have research to show it.

Another key finding from the study was related to how much my services – and those from other spouses like me — as a caregiver are worth. The dollar amount put on the worth of veteran caregivers was astounding.

“Post-9/11 caregiver duties can be estimated as worth close to $3 billion (in 2011 dollars),” the report says. These caregivers are providing sometimes more than 40 hours weekly caring for their veterans. Without their help these veterans could be placed in nursing home care or the veteran is suffering alone to get their needs met.

The caregivers are towing a huge bulk of the responsibilities and without them I can’t imagine the state that these veterans would be in. Thankfully the VA Caregivers Program is helping to compensate for the caregivers wages that are lost due to their caregiving responsibilities and helping with access to mental health.

Clearly there are organizations and programs out there to aide in fulfilling caregiver needs, like Hearts of Valor. However a couple of organizations and programs simply aren’t enough. These caregivers need long term help and support and the study identified and solidified the need for more help and more programs.

Former Senator Elizabeth Dole has referred to the caregivers as Hidden Heroes. I witness these caregiver’s heroic acts every day when working with Hearts of Valor. I am thankful for her call to action on behalf of military veteran caregivers. Without this study, awareness and support, these caregivers will be struggling to keep up with the demands of their caregiving.

For more in-depth information on the study please go here.

Cheryl Gansner is the wife of a wounded veteran that was injured on July 28th, 2006 in Kirkuk, Iraq. Bryan and Cheryl have been married for eight years and have one daughter. Cheryl has her bachelor’s degree in Social Work and is the Program Coordinator for Operation Homefront’s Hearts of Valor Program. Hearts of Valor serves caregivers of wounded, ill or injured service members post 9/11. For more information on Cheryl check out her blog at

Cheryl will be headed to DC on April 8th, 2014 to meet with the other Fellows, my State Representative and to attend a function at the White House with the First Lady and Dr. Jill Biden on behalf of the Dole Foundation. To learn more about the foundation please go here.

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  • sabrinacking

    The study was interesting for me as well, because it clearly redefines “caregiver”, in a way I have been talking about now for 2 years. People are changed by war, whether they have physical injuries or not. People who go through, as many of our spouses have, multiple deployments…do in fact, need caregivers. It is not the same relationship we had prior to war. More is asked of me, and most of us, the non-military spouse. Saying that, is not looking for pity or kudos. It is stating the reality. My husband post 5 deployments is on a plethora of medications, has new dietary needs since we have recently learned he has cardiac issues correlating to the PTSD, and has a totally new lifestyle regimen to combat anxiety. I am not alone in this, I see it in most every long term military marriage I know….or I see divorce. You either accept the reality of the changes, take on those challenges and stay married, or you get divorced.

  • Summer Simmons

    The VA caregiver program only gives compensation to those who are caring for WOUNDED SERVICE MEMBERS. As in, physical injury caused by war. They do not offer support to those, like me, who are caring for someone who had an illness caused by exposure to the chemicals of war. My husband is among hundreds ill following exposure to radiation after FUKUSHIMA abs although he has a 100% disability rating from the VA, I will not receive anything from the VA to care for him. Yet I will still do it without pay and pray that we have enough to cover our bills. Without my care, my husband would be in a care facility and I won’t have that. I would rather eat ramen every night and have my family together than have the freedom to go back to work and my husband have to be in a nursing home.

    • LuAnn

      Summer… I am so sorry your husband is sick. He is a hero for sure. As a widow of a 100% DAV pre 911… (My husband was Vietnam) I loved being able to take care of my husband. Not all wives will stand by their husband’s and choose the life you have chosen. You are so brave and your husband is truly blessed to have you by his side. God bless you for your courage and may you find much happiness in the little things in life.

    • Cheryl

      I am sorry to hear this, Summer. That is why this study is so important. There needs to be something to compensate caregivers of veterans who otherwise would be in nursing home care. I hope this study opens the eyes of those that write the legislation for these program so that all are included.

      • Paula Minger

        I agree Cheryl…this is why I am so concerned about orgs such as Wounded Warrior and Elizabeth Dole Foundation. They are making a clear attempt to remove all PRE 9/11 from any help.

        • Marine Wife 1

          Yes I believe the RAND study was bias and inaccurate. It compared pre 9/11 veterans only as the aging veteran and not the 40- 50 year old Gulf War 1 veteran in need of a caregiver. It was also inaccurate when it said A&A of $2,900 a month was available to pre 9/11 caregivers. That PENSION program is for nonservice connected veterans. It also made it sound like pre 9/11 caregivers have not been caring since a young age. I have been doing it for over 20 years, starting at age 18. My husband is a combat quad. I plan to rebuttal the report because it was one of the most inaccurate reports representing pre 9/11 caregivers. It is shameful anyone would exclude combat veterans in need from any era. We have the same needs, pre 9/11 caregivers just have been doing it longer without support. Talk about exhausted and needing help.

  • LuAnn

    Is there support for the kids.. My kids actively supported in the care of my DAV. He died and now my kids, especially my son has been struggling. I think that there is definitely some survivor guilt. We home schooled so that we could care for my husband who was pre 911 and had been hospitalized for both PTSD and endured many surgeries on his spine and knees. Yes, very strenuous for me.. Yes, I gave up a career to care for him… But my concern is the long lasting affect on the children. Mine grew up watching their dad go thru medical procedures and hospitalizations and near deaths and than their dad died when they were 12 and 14. All the benefits stop..until you manipulate thru the broken va system which we were told would take six months but actually took 18 months with the help of the DAV. We were devastated emotionally and financially.

    • Ken

      Contact the Social Security office.

  • Paula Minger

    I feel strongly that groups such as these are harming caregivers of PRE 9/11 disabled vets. We do not need these groups to divide us. We have power in the numbers of all caregivers.

    I will have more to say tomorrow.

  • Nicole

    I take care of my father veteran (Vietnam, Grenada, Panama) he was partially disabled and in the past 3 years he became 100% disabled with Alzheimer’s and his condition worsened very quickly while at the same time my mom a homemaker her entire life has now also become 100% disabled (as they tell me she cannot draw ssi because she didn’t put any $ into it????) I was told there is a program to pay me as their caregiver (I’ve been caring for them for over 3 years), I lost (gave up) my home & car after having to give up my job/career to care for them. I’m all they have (my sister does not assist in ANYWAY at all) & I will not put them in a home while I draw a breath; they took care of me for the first part of my life and I will take care of them. The alleged program that would possibly reimburse/pay me for caring for them is called Aid & Attendance but I cannot get any information on how to apply or etc without paying a lawyer $500 or more. Do you know of anyway I can apply for this without spending money we do not have? Do you have any information available about this? Any information on any programs would be greatly appreciated. Thanking you in advance.

  • With the new proposed bill, I am hoping that it will get passed very fast. pre-9/11 veterans and their caregivers need assistance too. My husband was in the “forgotten” war, as he calls it. Kosovo. He got out after 9/11 but we are still unsure if he and I qualify as post-9/11 anything. He was also in service during the first Gulf War.

    Jamie Dement (LadyJai) – Caring for My Veteran

  • PaulaMinger

    I read that story and I think we were once in that age group, most had children, most of us did not have education. We have even most of our lives caring for our Vet. We received nothing. We did everything and in many cases more than post 9/11 caregivers.

    Why are we left behind?

  • Sher

    I receive nothing for my WW II totally and permanently disabled 91 year old father since his era is not included for compensation by congress. Only 911 caregivers get stipends, compensation and medical care from the VA.