When servicemembers think of caregiving, odds are they think of the courageous families who care for our wounded warriors. But, some servicemembers themselves may one day face the challenge of another type of caregiving: helping a family member who is aging, sick, or has a disability and needs full-time care.
Today, 1 in 8 Americans is an older adult (age 65 or over) and that number is estimated to increase to 1 in 5 by 2030. In addition, around 11 million U.S. adults need some type of long-term care each year. Believe it or not, more than 1.3 million young people in the U.S. between the ages of 8 and 18 help care for a family member who is sick or has a disability– and some of those young people may be destined to enter the military.
What that means is that more young specialists, petty officers, ensigns, and lieutenants could be the primary caregivers for sick or elderly family members in the future. But how do they effectively care for loved ones when they are constantly moving and assigned far from home?
Servicemembers and military families who take on the responsibility of caring for an adult family member become responsible for making a number of critical legal, medical, and fiduciary decisions that can include long-term care planning, financial decision-making, coordinating daily activities, and even end-of-life decision-making. Those choices can be hard enough for any family, but long-term overseas deployments, regular duty-station changes, and other military duties make advance planning for caregiving a necessity for military families.
While every family’s situation will be unique, there are basic approaches to planning that can help make caring for an ill or older loved one more manageable:
- Plan as a family for the long-term personal and financial care of your loved ones. Talk with older or ill family members about how they would like their affairs managed before they need a substantial amount of care or become unable to make their own decisions. Topics to cover include handling finances, health care, daily care choices and preparing important legal documents like wills, financial powers-of-attorney, and health care proxies.
- Consider the effects of your military duties such as deployments on elder care. For example, if you will be overseas for long stretches, you may not be the best person to handle bill-paying or other daily money-management functions. Plan before you deploy for your loved one’s needs, possibly with the assistance of another family member who lives close by or an elder-care professional like a geriatric care manager.
- Check out the Department of Defense’s elder care handbook to find out about any support services, resources or benefits that are available to you as a military caregiver.
With some planning and forethought, servicemembers can ensure that their family members who are older, ill, or have a disability get the care they need, even if the servicemember is assigned far from home.