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Military Family Caregivers

Providing care to a Veteran is often a labor of love, and it’s important that you, as a caregiver, also meet your own needs. In this article, we’ll define caregiving, discuss how stress can affect caregivers, and talk about how to get the support you need to thrive while providing care.

Many challenges can affect Veterans following their service. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that 53% of Veterans experience substance use disorder at some point in their lifetimes.1 About 10% of male Veterans and 19% of female Veterans experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).2 Many Veterans are also living with other mental health disorders, including anxiety and depression.3

When a Veteran suffers from addiction or mental health issues, it can take a toll on their friends and family. If you’re providing care for a Veteran who has PTSD, substance use disorder, or other mental health diagnoses, you may find that it’s tough to balance self-care while also taking care of your loved one. If you feel this way, you’re not alone, and there are steps that you can take to get back to feeling like yourself.

Are You a Caregiver?

A caregiver is an individual who helps someone unable to fully care for themselves with daily activities like cooking, cleaning, and performing personal care tasks.4

Some of the duties performed by a caregiver can include:

  • Running errands, including picking up medications from the pharmacy.
  • Assisting with or performing personal care activities, such as bathing, brushing teeth, and shaving.
  • Cleaning.
  • Cooking.
  • Administering medication.

Keeping up with caregiving while managing your own daily life can be difficult. A single person can be responsible for many levels of caregiving, such as taking care of young children or aging parents.5

Caregiver Stress

While providing care to a loved one can be rewarding, it can also be difficult. Women are at an increased risk of experiencing negative health effects related to the stress of serving as a caregiver.5

Providing care to a Veteran who is suffering from substance use disorder can be especially challenging. You may feel overwhelmed by the fact that you need to be “on call” 24 hours a day, especially if you do not have help from friends or family members. You may also feel sadness as you see the effect that addiction has on your loved one’s life. Financial uncertainty can also be a source of stress for caregivers, as you may be unsure of how you’ll help your loved one pay for the care that they need to get well.5

VA Caregiver Support Programs

You don’t have to try to manage the stress of caregiving on your own. Many people are in the position of trying to handle their daily responsibilities as well as providing care for someone they love. If you’re struggling with caregiver stress or burnout due to the pressures associated with caring for your Veteran, a substance use disorder or PTSD caregiver program may be a good fit for your needs.

Here, we’ll explore the MISSION Act, a program that works to provide family caregivers with access to the Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers (PCAFC). This can help to allow Veteran caregivers to access benefits formerly only available to post-9/11 Veterans.6 Many caregivers are now able to utilize care at VA facilities, at community health centers, and through telehealth services.7

Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers

If you’re searching for a VA caregiver program for PTSD, the Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers (PCAFC) can provide you with the support that you need to manage the stress associated with caregiving. Expanding on the MISSION Act, the PCAFC broadens the definition of a “seriously injured Veteran,” as well as the definition of “in need of personal care services,” allowing more caregivers to access services like respite care and professional support.8

If you’re interested in learning more about whether you’re eligible for PCAFC as a caregiver, click here to complete an online application.

Program of General Caregiver Support Services

The Program of General Caregiver Support Services (PGCSS) also expands on the MISSION Act, providing caregivers of Veterans with the opportunity to connect with other caregivers through support groups and receive education to enhance caregiving skills.9

You’ll need to reach out to your state’s Caregiver Support Program Team to access support and education through the PGCSS.

Opportunities available through PGCSS include:

  • Annie Caregiver Text Program: This program connects you with a support system that can help you prioritize your own self-care, cope with bereavement, and more.
  • S.A.V.E. Training: An acronym for Signs, Ask, Validate, Encourage and Expedite, the S.A.V.E. program is a training for caregivers of Veterans who are at risk of suicide.
  • One-on-One Coaching: This program provides caregivers with a point person for support and education on Veteran behaviors, safety, problems, and concerns.
  • Caregiver Health and Well-being Coaching: Your self-care matters, and the Caregiver Health and Well-being Coaching program connects you with a coach who will get to know you and support you as you work to lower stress and improve your overall sense of health.

When to Consider Professional Help

As the caregiver of a Veteran, it’s important to recognize when the person you care for is struggling, and how to know when it’s time to reach out to get them professional help. When you notice changes in the person you take care of, it’s important to pay attention, as noticeable differences in behaviors and emotions may be a sign that something is wrong.

There are many signs that your Veteran may need professional help with substance use disorder, including:10

  • Increased tolerance to drugs and alcohol.
  • An inability to stop drinking or using drugs.
  • Drinking and driving or drinking or using drugs in other hazardous situations.
  • Feeling sick or experiencing withdrawal after using drugs or alcohol.
  • Relationship problems due to drug and alcohol use.

It’s important to speak with a doctor or mental health professional if you’re concerned that your loved one may be experiencing substance use disorder. Your healthcare professional will talk with you and your loved one to determine whether they qualify for a diagnosis of substance use disorder, using the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).11

Substance use disorder is highly treatable, and there are many types of treatment available to help your loved one. Medical detoxification, support groups, inpatient treatment, outpatient treatment, and behavioral therapy can all support your loved one’s recovery process.

Taking Care of Yourself

Taking care of yourself is vital when serving as a caregiver. You cannot help your loved one(s) if you’re not taking care of yourself. Therapy (including family therapy, individual counseling, and group therapy) can provide you with the support that you need as a caregiver. Getting enough sleep, engaging in healthy movement, and prioritizing nutritious foods can also help you feel your best.

If you are a Veteran living with substance use disorder, it’s important to look into medical detox, inpatient or outpatient treatment, and a recovery plan for addiction. Reach out to American Addiction Centers (AAC) at to learn about your treatment options. You can also verify your insurance to learn more about paying for treatment. You can also use our treatment locator to find a rehab near you.

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