VA is marking National Family Caregiver Month by honoring the service of family members and friends who have dedicated their lives to caring for chronically ill, injured, or disabled Veterans. Caregivers provide an invaluable service to Veterans by assisting them in accessing healthcare, providing emotional and physical support, and allowing aging and/or injured Veterans to stay in their homes rather than living in an institutional setting. The aging of the current Veteran population along with the many younger and, in some cases, severely injured Veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts now entering the VA healthcare system makes the role of caregivers as partners in healthcare even more important.
In providing such extraordinary care to Veterans, caregivers can become overburdened. On May 5, 2010, President Obama signed into law the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2010. This law will allow VA to care for those who provide supplemental help to family caregivers of the most severely wounded veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition, VA researchers continue to conduct important studies that examine caregivers' own health, work, and home life – all factors that contribute to their well-being and, thus, the health and well-being of Veterans.
For example, HSR&D investigators recently conducted a review and synthesis of the research literature to help understand the impact of certain services for non-professional caregivers of individuals with dementia, especially looking at the effects on their mood, burden, and ability to manage problematic behavior. Overall, investigators found that the strongest evidence supports caregiver services that are designed after individual in-home assessments. This and other research studies that focus on caregivers of older Veterans with post-stroke – or caregivers of younger Veterans with polytraumatic combat injuries suffered in Iraq and Afghanistan, to name a few, will help VA managers and clinicians in their efforts to serve caregivers.