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When we typically think of a hero, they wear a distinctive suit, a long cape, and often have some type of unique power. Of course, these heroes are only in movies. Our real-life heroes are those who fight for our freedom and protect our families; our real heroes are the soldiers and veterans. And, unlike the heroes of Hollywood, often these heroes return home with both physical and psychological wounds, and require the support of a caregiver.

Family caregivers of veterans are unlike other family caregivers in the U.S. Caregivers of veterans normally serve as a caregiver for longer periods of time compared to a typical family caregiver. They also experience higher levels of burden; sixty-five percent of caregivers to veterans report high-burden, compared to forty percent of non-veteran caregivers.[1] Sixty-eight percent of caregivers of veterans consider their position as very stressful, compared to thirty-one percent of caregivers for non-veteran adults.[2]

This is because veteran caregivers face different challenges than other caregivers. Caregivers to veterans are more likely to help their loved one with Activities of Daily Living, which include bathing, feeding, helping in the bathroom, and dressing.[3] They also care for those with mental health conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, and traumatic brain injuries.

In 2011, Senator Elizabeth Dole met with military and veteran families at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where she learned about the struggles family caregivers of veterans face.[4] A year later, she founded Caring for Military Families: the Elizabeth Dole Foundation. Since its founding, the Dole Foundation has conducted an evidence-based needs assessment of caregivers, and launched a grant program called the Hidden Heroes Fund. Visit the Hidden Heros site to access resources for those caring for veterans, and opportunities to connect with others who care for heroes:

The Department of Veterans Affairs also offers a range of resources for caregivers, including classes and care coordination. To learn more, see:

[1] Caregivers of Veterans – Serving on the Homefront. Report. National Alliance for Caregiving, 2010. 16.

[2] Ibid., 17.

[3] Ibid., 16.

[4] “The Elizabeth Dole Foundation.” Accessed September 29, 2017.