En español | The coronavirus pandemic has meant more responsibility, increased isolation, depression and anxiety, and fewer respite breaks for caregivers. On any given day, more than 6 million Americans are caring for our wounded, ill or injured veterans and nearly 40 percent are living with the loved ones they tend to, according to “Caregiving in the U.S. 2020,” a report by AARP and the National Alliance on Caregiving.
In response, AARP is collaborating with the Elizabeth Dole Foundation to spread the word about a new no-cost Respite Relief Program for Military and Veteran Caregivers. The free benefit could be a major boost for stretched and strained military and veteran caregivers who look after loved ones at home.
How to apply for respite relief
Respite Relief for Military and Family Caregivers is administered by the Elizabeth Dole Foundation with care assistance provided by CareLinx — a qualified in-home respite care provider — and national outreach support by AARP and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Requirement: You must provide care to a wounded, ill or injured veteran or service member (and submit proof of service).
Veteran and military caregivers can apply online to receive approximately 24 hours of respite care in four-hour blocks to help with activities of daily living, such as cooking, grocery shopping, light housekeeping, bathing and medication reminders.
I can attest that caregiving can be very stressful, even on a good day. For many years I took care of my dad, a World War II and Korean War veteran who lived with Alzheimer's disease for more than a decade. As caregivers, we become isolated as we focus on providing assistance, working and fulfilling family needs, which leaves no time for anything else.
One in 4 veteran caregivers say they have trouble managing stress and taking care of themselves. Nearly 40 percent say providing care causes high emotional strain. That's where respite relief comes in — having someone else to help so we can get things done or take a break to rest, go to our own medical appointments, exercise or enjoy stress-relieving activities and entertainment.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made caregiving more intense and respite care harder to come by. For some, their usual go-to services, such as adult day services or in-home care, are no longer accessible or available. Further financial strains and jobs lost to the pandemic make it harder to budget for extra services. Others who didn't need respite assistance previously have found that their caregiving responsibilities have increased exponentially, and so they are now desperate for a break. As these caregivers valiantly forge ahead in tending to our veterans in extreme circumstances, they are being pushed to the brink. Burnout can occur, and then the entire care plan can fall apart. That's why it is crucial for caregivers to look after themselves, too.
What does the Respite Relief Program offer?
The program provides approximately 24 hours of free short-term nonmedical service from a professional caregiver to qualifying military and veteran caregivers. It's essentially an extra pair of hands to free up caregivers to recharge and refresh. Services include meals, housekeeping, transportation, exercise, companionship, mobility, medication reminders, toileting, bathing and grooming.
To apply, visit the Respite Relief for Military and Veteran Caregivers website and fill out an application form. You need to provide information about your loved one's military service and your caregiving situation, including details like your family member's needs, your own concerns, how the pandemic has affected you and how long you've been a caregiver. You'll hear back from the Respite Relief review committee, whose members are working as quickly as possible to approve qualified applications, with a goal of a two- to three-week response time. Then your information will be safely transferred to CareLinx, which will match you with a professional care provider.
Stressed-out caregivers can become dangerously isolated and emotionally exhausted, making it difficult for them to reach out for help. That's why the Elizabeth Dole Foundation has made applying for the program as easy as possible. Jennifer Mackinday, 49, a veteran caregiver from Florida, was glad she made the effort. “I was skeptical that using respite care would actually help – I thought it might be more work than it was worth,” she says. “But it was game-changing. It really was the first step for me to start taking better care of myself, mentally and physically.”
For more information, resources and supports for veteran and military families, visit aarp.org/veterans.
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.