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​The Financial Toll Behind Caregiving for Veterans

Military caregivers spend 1.5 times more than the average family caregiver

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Amy Goyer, left, spent over a decade caring for her father, a veteran of World War II and the Korean War.
Amy Goyer / Getty

Caregiving for my dad, a veteran of World War II and the Korean War, for over a decade was a great joy and honor. Yet, as it is for many veteran and military caregivers, it was financially devastating for me.

The U.S. has 6.5 million veteran and military caregivers, and they provide unpaid labor valued at $14 billion a year. On average, they spend more than civilian caregivers, putting their own financial stability at risk.

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In fact, veteran family caregivers typically spend $11,500 a year of their own personal income on out-of-pocket costs for their loved ones. That’s 1.5 times higher than the average spent by family caregivers overall ($7,242), according to AARP data.

I spent even more than that when I cared for Dad, covering the mortgage, food, clothing, medications, medical equipment and other services that Medicare or the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) wouldn’t provide. I also made safety modifications to the bathroom and footed the bill for such supplemental costs as paid caregivers to help out after the monthly budget was depleted.

At the same time, I was also caregiving for my mom and my sister.

Financial struggles despite strong retirement planning

Mom and Dad had done solid retirement planning, working with a financial planner. Their plan included savings, investments, long-term care insurance, Social Security and Dad’s pension.

Nevertheless, their financial resources were drained by Mom’s 25-year struggle with stroke-related health issues and Dad’s Alzheimer’s. When I stepped in to help them, their savings and investments were gone, and they were in debt.

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Dad was eventually approved for VA health care and Veterans Aid and Attendance benefits, which helped in the final few years of his life. Still, despite my providing 60 to 80 hours of unpaid labor a week (while working full-time), their caregiving costs were far beyond anything my parents could have predicted.

Caregiving for someone living with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia is a long haul, and caregiver costs are higher than they are for other caregivers.

Family caregivers of veterans who are themselves age 45 or older are most likely to have unpaid caregiving responsibilities — at a time when they should be heavily planning and saving for their own retirement.

I was 48 when I turned my life upside down, quitting my job and losing my employee benefits. I transitioned into consulting, which gave me more flexibility to care for my parents, but as it is for millions of family caregivers, my retirement savings plan was completely derailed.

At first I cared for my parents long-distance, a form of caregiving associated with higher expenses. Later I had to relocate across the country to care for them. My parents moved to a senior community for a few years, and I moved into their house, taking over paying the mortgage.

But when, after three years, they needed care 24/7, I decided to have them move back in with me to save on housing costs and to allow me to provide more hands-on care. I hired caregivers to tend to them during my working hours. After the first year, Mom passed away. Dad lived with me for a total of six years before he died at home at age 94.

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Amy Goyer's mother and father.
Courtesy Amy Goyer

Financial sacrifices of caregivers

Like the 43 percent of veteran and military caregivers who experience at least one financial setback (such as increasing their debt or dipping into personal savings), I sacrificed my own financial security to care for my parents. I spent all of my savings and never had the ability to replace it.

Watch AARP and EDF’s financial caregiving webcast

AARP and the Elizabeth Dole Foundation hosted a conversation about the financial impact of caregiving on veteran and military families with Amy Goyer, AARP caregiving expert, and Shawn Moore, manager of the Dole Foundation’s financial wellness program.

The panelists shared experiences and insight from their personal caregiving journeys and provided expert advice for military families on how to build a secure financial future.

Watch a recap of the event here.

After Dad died, my financial advisers and lawyers told me to file for bankruptcy — a terrible, humiliating and demoralizing experience. Dad would have been mortified had he known that caring for him had bankrupted me.

I’m glad he didn’t know, and I don’t ask for sympathy — I chose to care for him and other family members, and I’m proud to have done so. But I do believe it should not be such a financial struggle to care for those who have honorably served our country.

I’m sharing my experience regarding the financial challenges of caregiving for my dad because I’ve found that money can be a taboo topic. Struggling financially is often shamed in our society, and caregivers hesitate to speak openly about it. Meanwhile, in private conversations, many family caregivers tell me about their constant battle to make ends meet, trying to avoid bankruptcy while fulfilling their caregiving responsibilities.

A shared struggle

Following a speech I gave to a group of veteran and military caregivers, a woman who was caring for her veteran husband pulled me aside to thank me for telling my story. She told me they also went through bankruptcy due to his service-related injuries. “I have never told anyone about that,” she told me quietly. “Thank you for making me feel less ashamed about it.”

Every family caregiver has a unique experience — a distinct set of circumstances and challenges. The health conditions and financial resources of our loved ones differ, as do the resources we are able to bring to the table.

Regardless, no family caregiver who takes on the role of caring for one of our veterans should have to feel ashamed about any aspect of doing so. And our financial security should not be threatened because we choose to care for those who have served our nation. Our wounded warriors and our hidden heroes — their caregivers — deserve better.

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