En español | As family caregivers, we have a tendency to forget about ourselves and our financial resources while caring for others. Managing the financial challenges of caregiving is an aspect of self-care that is all too often invisible or ignored, but dealing with it is vital. I can attest that caring for loved ones can be financially devastating, as I cared for Mom and Dad (who was a veteran) for more than a decade. Family caregivers, on average, spend approximately $7,400 a year of their personal income on the out-of-pocket costs of caregiving. Additionally, military and veteran family caregivers face more frequent financial hurdles, which have been further magnified by the financial fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A sneak peek at the 2020 Blue Star Families’ annual Military Family Lifestyle Survey, fielded from Sept. 8 to Oct. 16, 2020 (it will be fully released later this month), reveals the extent to which the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the lives of active-duty service members or their spouses/domestic partners. Survey respondents report significant changes in the financial and caregiving aspects of their lives during the pandemic, including:
- 45 percent report their caregiving situation is worse or much worse
- 10 percent could not provide care at all
- 32 percent report their financial situation is worse or much worse
- 60 percent experience stress due to their financial situation
For caregivers of active-duty military, it may be particularly difficult to help loved ones during military deployment and repeated station changes. We know that long-distance caregivers tend to spend more money than those caring for someone nearby (as do those caring for someone living with dementia). Sixty percent of military and veteran caregivers do not live with the loved one they care for, according to Caregiving in the U.S. 2020.
Military and veteran caregivers also tend to take on their roles for longer periods of time, sometimes due to service-related injuries to young soldiers that follow them for the rest of their lives. Nearly 7 in 10 (68 percent) military and veteran caregivers care for someone with a long-term condition, and 67 percent help with medical/nursing tasks. The intensity and the expenses add up over time. Forty-four percent of military and veteran caregivers experience at least one financial impact.
Jessica Allen, an accredited financial counselor, not only has many years of experience helping others deal with their finances, she's also a military spouse and caregiver for her husband, who was injured by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan in 2011. He is now medically retired from the Army. She says that when he was injured, she didn't get much support in figuring out how to deal with the impact of his care. But assistance for military families has improved over the years as she and others have advocated for more support and services.
"People think that my husband is 100 percent taken care of by the VA, but there are actually many out-of-pocket costs,” says Allen.
Allen, who has helped many military families deal with financial matters, says the lack of financial training is widespread. “The biggest problem is that military families are lacking the financial education,” she notes. That's why she is so passionate about helping them get their finances organized.
Allen called on her years of personal and professional experience to help create a free new AARP resource that specifically targets those walking a path similar to hers. The Financial Workbook for Veteran and Military Family Caregivers is a practical guide focused on health, housing and money management. (A version of the Financial Workbook is also available for non-military family caregivers.)
The Financial Workbook helps caregivers gather and organize key information and documents regarding such issues as insurance, legal affairs, military documents and financial matters related to health care, renting or owning a home, transportation and many other common concerns. It also helps caregivers create a monthly budget and develop a plan for dealing with debt. Perhaps most important, the Financial Workbook addresses future financial plans for caregivers. A list of resources and organizations and a glossary of terms are included.
Whether you're at the start of a caregiving journey or deep in the throes of it, the Financial Workbook can help. I urge you to download it and seek the guidance of a financial counselor or adviser right away — don't wait until you're in a crisis. Taking control of your finances is such an empowering experience and can ease stress, so we can focus more effectively on caring for loved ones.
Amy Goyer is AARP's family and caregiving expert and author of Juggling Life, Work and Caregiving. Connect with Amy on amygoyer.com, Facebook, Twitter, in AARP's Online Community and in the AARP Facebook Family Caregivers Group.