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Military Family Caregivers

Substance abuse and addiction can be a major issue for military veterans. A recent study found that approximately 11% of veterans who went to Veterans Affairs (VA) for the first time to receive care met the diagnostic criteria for a substance abuse disorder (SUD).1 Of those veterans who have come back from serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, almost 20% are dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, or traumatic brain injury (TBI), which makes them more inclined to abuse substances.1

With a significant percentage of veterans dealing with both mental health challenges and SUDs, the impact expands beyond veterans to their families and loved ones. The families of veterans have experienced emotional and psychological stress whiles their loved ones were deployed. Once their loved ones are home and have retired from the service, family members can experience various challenges and struggles as they work to support or care for their loved ones as they transition to civilian life. This will be further intensified if the veteran has a problem with addiction.

How Are Veterans’ Families Impacted?

For the family members of veterans with SUDs, there are various stressors they may experience. One of these stressors is caregiver burden, which may exhibit itself in various ways, including:2

  • Depression.
  • Anxiety.
  • Sorrow.
  • Frustration.
  • Financial uncertainty.
  • Feeling concern and sadness for the loved one.

As family members work to support their loved ones and to understand addiction so that they can help them pursue treatment, they must also work to understand how the struggles that their love one is experiencing can put stress on the family and even impact family members’ health. Veterans who are dealing with mental health and/or SUDs often have spouses, partners, children, parents, and siblings who may also be struggling.2 In addition to dealing with stress, sadness, and depression, among other things, family members may also be struggling with taking on a new role as a caregiver.

What Is a Caregiver?

While members of families always take care of each other, often people do not identify themselves as caregivers when it comes to managing various responsibilities for family members who are veterans.3 But any member of the family is in a caregiver role if they help a veteran with the following:3

  • Making medical appointments or driving to the doctor
  • Picking up prescriptions
  • Getting into, out of, bed
  • Showering, dressing, or taking medication
  • Feeding themselves
  • Doing physical therapy or giving injections
  • Speaking with doctors, nurses, social workers, and others to have an understanding of medical care or benefits

If you assist a veteran with any of those things, you are identified as a caregiver, and there are VA caregiver services for which you may be eligible.3

Caregivers and the MISSION Act

Veterans who are dealing with mental health and SUDs can obtain quality treatment through VA. However, there are instances in which veterans are unable to obtain the treatment they need due to a lack of availability or accessibility at VA. That is where the MISSION Act comes in.

What is the MISSION Act? It is a program that provides veterans with increased access to healthcare in both VA facilities and from general providers in the community.4

Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers

In addition to providing care to veterans, the MISSION Act also expands benefits for caregivers. This is mainly occurring through increased access to the Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers (PCAFC).4 Currently, the program only provides support to eligible veterans who were injured in the line of duty on or after September 11, 2001, but VA is working to expand eligibility to veterans of all eras.4

To be eligible for the PCAFC, the family caregiver needs to be at least 18 years old and have at least one of the following be true. You must either be a spouse, child, parent, stepfamily member, or extended family of the veteran or someone who either lives with the veteran full time or is willing to do so.5 In addition, the veteran must meet all of the following criteria. The veteran must:5

  • Have been discharged from the military or have a date of medical discharge, and
  • Have a serious injury (TBI, PTSD, psychological trauma, etc.) that was a result of or worsened by active-duty service on or after September 11, 2001, and
  • Need continuous personal care services for at least 6 months.

You can also check eligibility here.

Those caregivers who are eligible for the PCAFC can receive benefits that may include training, counseling, beneficiary travel, enhanced respite care, technical support, and a monthly stipend.6 In addition, primary caregivers would also be eligible for financial planning services and legal services.6 If the veteran does not meet the requirements for eligibility, there are still VA resources available.

Program of General Caregiver Support Services

In addition to PCAFC, the Program of General Caregiver Support Services (PGCSS) is open to eligible veterans for all eras.3 The PGCSS provides the caregivers of veterans with education, resources, and support.7 The veteran does not need to have a service-connected condition which requires support from the caregiver to be eligible.7 Contact a local caregiver support coordinator to find out more about the PGCSS.

Take Care of Yourself

In addition to caring for the veteran in your family, who may be struggling with mental health and substance use disorders, you also may be tasked with caring for other family members. As you care for your family, make sure that you don’t forget to also take care of yourself. If you allow yourself to get rundown, overwhelmed, depressed, or more, that prevents you from being healthy enough to provide the care that your loved ones need—and that you want to give.

Individual counseling and family therapy allow you and your family unit to share feelings, experiences, and understanding in a safe environment. Additional ways to care for yourself include:

  • Being patient with yourself.
  • Allowing yourself to feel whatever emotions you feel—without guilt.
  • Recognizing that things will improve, but it won’t happen right away.
  • Taking care of yourself physically by eating healthy and exercising.
  • Engaging in activities that bring you pleasure.
  • Spending time with friends and family.
  • Taking a break.
  • Finding the positive moments and memories in a challenging time.

Having a veteran in the family who is struggling with substance abuse, mental health, adjusting to civilian life, or any other issue can be difficult. That’s why it is imperative you take care of yourself while you take care of your loved one. And don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you think your loved one has a problem with addiction, reach out to one of our admissions navigators today at . They can provide the information and support that you need as you help your loved one begin on the path to recovery.


  1. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2019). Spotlight on Substance Use Disorder.
  2. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2018). Effects of PTSD on family.
  3. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2020). VA Caregiver Support.
  4. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2020). VA MISSION Act.
  5. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2020). Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers Proposed Regulation: Frequently Asked Questions.

More resources about Military Family Caregivers: