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Written By: Mary Brintnall-Peterson, Ph.D., MBP Consulting, LLC, Professor Emeritus, University of Wisconsin – Extension

As a professional, you spend time searching for resources, supports and services to assist military caregivers with hopes what you discover will be helpful to them. You are ecstatic when a caregiver uses a suggested resource and comment on how helpful it was to them. So why is it that some caregivers use suggested resources while other don’t?

Hidden Heroes, American’s Military Caregivers, a study funded by the Rand Corporation explores military caregivers use of resources/supports. They found that only 15-30% percent of post 9/11 caregivers used recommended services in the past year. Religious supports were used most often while stipend type programs were used least (Ramchand, et al., 2014). Why were these resources used and not others?

The easy answer is, caregivers only use resources/supports they value because they understand how it will address their particular concern or issue. A strategy I use to help the caregiver understand the benefits of possible resources/supports involves several steps. It ends with the caregiver developing a goal detailing how they will use a particular resource/support. The steps include:

Step #1: Listening carefully to what the caregiver is sharing and together identify his/her major caregiver concern. This involves a “give and take” process of listening, sharing back what you heard, and having the caregiver agree or disagree with what you are telling them you heard. Probing can help get to the core issue and concern. This step is time consuming but essential if you are going to get to the military caregiver’s core issue or concern. Before moving to step 2 the caregiver must have a clear picture of what the concern or issue is.

Step #2: Identifying and sharing possible resource and support options. Explain each resource in detail pointing out how they could benefit the caregiver. Have the military caregiver identify the pros and cons of each resource/support from their perspective.

Step #3: Asking the caregiver to select one resource/support option they are willing to try. By the caregiver selecting the resource/support they acknowledge how it can address their concern and benefit them.

Step #4: Assisting the caregiver in creating a goal. The following questions can be helpful in developing the goal which should be written out.

  • What resource/support will be used?
  • When will it be used?
  • How often will it be used?
  • For how long will it be used or done?
  • Where will the caregiver go to get the resource/support?

Goal example: I will call the doctor to make an appointment for a physical exam on Friday before noon. Another example: I will mediate for 10 minutes on the deck after lunch on Monday and Friday. It is essential that the goal is achievable so the caregiver is successful so they will try other resources/supports. One of the benefits of exploring lots of resource/support options is that if the first one selected didn’t work out, there are others to try. Sometimes it may take the caregiver several tries before finding a resource/support that works for them.

Step #5: Last step– Determining how you will support the caregiver so they are successful in reaching their goal. This could include calling or sending an email asking about the progress on their goal, making a contact for them so its easier to access a resource, making a referral, etc. Make sure the caregiver leaves with the goal in writing including details on how you will support them. Encourage the caregiver to post the goal in a place they will see it often. By writing the goal and having it visible the caregiver has a higher chance of success.

This strategy is designed to enable the caregiver to see the positive benefits or value of using a specific resource/support to assist them with their caregiver role and responsibilities. With the caregiver identifying their concern or issue, exploring possible resource/support options, selecting a resource/support and developing a specific goal the caregiver will be more successful in addressing their concern or issue.


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.