Unseen Soldiers: Recognizing the Critical Role of Military Caregivers in the Fight Against Veteran Suicide

Published: September 4, 2023

America is home to an invisible army, about 5.5 million strong, working tirelessly every day. This vast force isn’t made up of soldiers, marines, or sailors, but of caregivers to those who have served our country in uniform. According to a 2014 report by the RAND Corporation, almost 20% of these caregivers are looking after post-9/11 veterans, many of whom battle not only physical wounds but mental health issues and substance abuse disorders. These caregivers are critical lifelines, yet their efforts often go unrecognized, and the support they need is often overlooked.

The Blue Star Families’ innovative “Combat the Silence” campaign aims to address this gap by empowering not just veterans and active service members, but those who support them— including these military caregivers.

Military caregivers often spend substantial amounts of time providing care, sometimes more than 40 hours a week. Despite the emotional, physical, and financial toll this takes, they consistently help their charges cope with stressful situations and other emotional and behavioral challenges. However, without adequate support and resources, these caregivers’ own well-being can be put at risk, leading to poor health outcomes, strained family relationships, and workplace problems.

One of the key components of the “Combat the Silence” campaign is the Blue Star Support Circles. This first-of-its-kind program is built on the understanding that everyone in a service member or veteran’s life can contribute to their well-being. By facilitating conversations, providing training and resources, and creating a network of support, these circles aim to equip military caregivers with the tools they need to fulfill their roles more effectively.

Yet the need for support goes beyond training and resources. Society needs to begin acknowledging the essential role these caregivers play and the unique challenges they face. For many caregivers, their duties aren’t just a short-term commitment; they’re a lifetime responsibility that will require strategic planning and sustained support.

“Combat the Silence” is more than a campaign; it’s a movement that encourages us to broaden our perspective on mental health and suicide prevention in the military community. By recognizing the invaluable role of military caregivers and equipping them with the tools, resources, and support they need, we can help ensure the well-being of not just our service members and veterans, but of those who care for them.

The mental health crisis affecting our military isn’t a battle to be fought by individuals alone. It requires a collective effort – recognizing and supporting the caregivers who form the backbone of our military community is a critical step in this journey. Together, let’s ensure that these hidden heroes receive the recognition and support they deserve.

This op-ed uses information from a 2014 report by the RAND Corporation: Hidden Heroes: America’s Military Caregivers.

By Hope Petersen

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