Written by: Mary Brintnall-Peterson, Ph.D., MBP Consulting, LLC, Professor Emeritus, University of Wisconsin – Extension
Let’s have some fun taking a short quiz to see how well you know the characteristics of military caregivers. You will be asked a question and the correct answer will follow. Information for this quiz was taken from the comprehensive study of military caregivers, Hidden Heroes, American’s Military Caregivers, funded by the Rand Corporation (Ramchand, et al., 2014) The study divided military caregivers into two groups and compared them to civilian caregivers and non-caregivers. Pre-9/11 caregivers are defined as those who care for a soldier who became ill or injured before 9/11 (i.e. Vietnam, World War I and II, the Korean conflict, etc.), post 9/11 caregivers are those who care for a soldier who served after 9/11 (i.e. the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts). A civilian caregiver cares for an individual who has never served in the military and a non-caregiver is an individual who is not providing care to anyone. Let’s look at the questions:
1. Military caregivers make up what percentage of all caregivers in the United States?
B. 8 %
Answer: C or 24%.
There are 22.6 million caregivers in the United States (9.4% of the adult population) with 5.5 million caring for someone who served in the military. This means military caregivers make up 24% of all caregivers. Military caregivers are divided in two groups with a majority (80.4%) caring for someone pre-9/11 and the other 19.6% caring for a post 9/11 soldier. Seven percent of the adult population in the United States provide care for an adult over 18.
2. Which descriptions best describes the characteristics of post 9/11 military caregivers?
A. Post 9/11 caregivers are younger, non-white women caring for a spouse.
B. Post 9/11 caregivers are older white women caring for a parent.
Because there has been an increase in minorities volunteering to serve their country, it stands to reason that the number of non-white caregivers would be larger than in the past. Forty-three percent of post 9/11 military caregivers are minorities (10% black, 21% Hispanic and 10% other, non-Hispanic and 2% multiple, non-Hispanic) compared to 25% of pre-9/11 caregivers. It should be noted that 36% of civilian caregivers are non-white.
Finding out the relationship of the caregiver to the soldier is critical as there are differences between spousal caregivers and caregivers caring for an adult child. Post 9/11 caregivers are mostly spouses (33%) with an additional 25% being parents while 36% of pre- 9/11 caregivers are parents and only 22% are spouses. Age is another key factor to find out as there are differences between caregiver groups. A majority of all caregivers are between the ages of 31-55. Post 9/11 caregivers have a higher percentage of younger caregivers than all the other caregiver groups. Thirty seven percent of post 9/11 military caregivers are between the ages of 18-30 years old with pre-9/11 caregivers having only 11% and civilian caregivers having 16%.
3. Is the length of a military caregiver’s journey longer or shorter than civilian caregivers?
C. No differences
Answer: C. No differences
Many studies have reported that military caregivers provide care two times longer than other caregivers. Yet new findings suggest that there aren’t any statistical differences in length of the caregiver journey between pre- 9/11, post 9/11 and civilian caregivers. All caregivers provided care for more than one year with 10-16% being a caregiver for at least eleven years. This new data suggests that military caregivers are not in that role as long as previously determined. This data is expected to change as post 9/11 caregivers continue to provide care to soldiers who became ill or injured when they were in their 20s and 30s.
4. The type of care a military caregiver provides is dependent on which war/conflict they were in and if the soldier was injured or became ill due to their service?
Answer: A. True
The type of injuries or illnesses each soldier encounters depends on the war/conflict they participated in. The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization fact sheets on the health risks of soldiers by the different wars and conflicts are summarized below. Knowing the possible health risks by war or conflict provides you with insights into what the caregiver may be experiencing.
- World War II soldiers were exposed to tuberculosis, rheumatic fever, hepatitis and tropical disease. Besides infectious diseases and wounds they encountered frostbite.
- Korean veterans suffer from cold injuries including frostbite and trench foot. Cold related problems increase the probability that the veteran will be at risk for amputation because of peripheral vascular disease or diabetes.
- Vietnam veterans came in contact with malaria, tropical diseases, and the ramifications of Agent Orange or other herbicides. These veterans are also at risk for hepatitis C.
- Gulf war soldiers were exposed to chemical and biological agents along with concentrations of smoke from burning oil wells. Many have been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as “Lou Gehrig’s” disease and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
- Iraq and Afghanistan conflict soldiers experienced amputation, burns, traumatic brain injury (TBI), post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and often have multiple health concerns. PTDS and TBI are invisible wounds making it even more difficult for caregivers to provide care
Did you get all the answers correct? Were you surprised at some of the answers? By understanding the “norms” for the various types of caregivers you’ll be able to determine if the caregiver is having a different or unusual experience than others in similar situations. This knowledge will help you determine the questions to ask the caregiver and which resources and supports to suggest. One resource you might want to add to your library is Hidden Heroes, American’s Military Caregivers.
Ramchand, R., Tanielian, T., Fisher, M., Vughan, C., Trail, T., Epley, C. V., . . . Robinson, E. G.-D. (2014). Hidden Heroes, Americans Military Caregivers. Santa Monica: Rand Corporation.
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Vietnam War Exposures. Retrieved from Public Health on August 12, 2018: