Having a veteran in the family, whether a grandparent, parent, spouse, or other relative, is a special honor. Veterans have sacrificed so much by serving our country, often putting their lives at risk. As a result, they may face unique health and care challenges. Our duty and privilege is to provide the best possible care for veteran family members.
There are over 17 million veterans in the United States, spanning generations from World War II to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Nearly 25% of veterans are 65 years or older. As veterans age, many develop chronic health conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI), diabetes, cancer, and respiratory illnesses. Sadly, veterans are also at a higher risk for suicide and homelessness. Caring for an aging or disabled veteran requires understanding their unique needs. We can greatly improve their quality of life with patience, compassion, and proper support.
Here are ten tips to provide the best care for a veteran family member:
Help Manage Medical Care
Managing complex health conditions that many veterans face can be difficult. Offer to assist your veteran family member with scheduling medical appointments, filling prescriptions and refilling on time, and providing transportation to and from appointments. You can also attend appointments with them to take notes, ask questions on their behalf, and ensure doctors are addressing all their needs.
Some veterans, due to exposure to asbestos during their service (especially those who served in the Navy until the 70s), may develop mesothelioma, a type of cancer. In such cases, consulting with mesothelioma law firms that specialize in securing compensation for affected veterans is beneficial. These law firms can guide you through the legal process, ensuring your loved one gets the support they deserve.
Keep an updated list of all their medications, dosages, and timing to share with any new doctors they see. Having a family member involved in managing their diverse medical care helps ensure veterans get the continuous treatment they require from the VA or other providers.
Learn about Available Benefits
The VA provides many programs and benefits to support veterans that you should educate yourself on. These can include healthcare coverage through VA hospitals and clinics, monthly disability compensation for injuries incurred during service, pension plans for low-income or elderly veterans, employment services like job training and resume assistance, educational assistance like the GI Bill for college tuition, vocational rehabilitation, insurance plans, home loan guarantees, and more.
Sit down with your veteran family member and help them connect with a VA representative or Veterans Service Officer, who can thoroughly explain all the options available—maximizing the benefits they are entitled to can make a huge difference in their care, finances, and quality of life. Access to comprehensive healthcare, medications, counseling, and in-home nursing care can be invaluable resources.
Provide Social Support
Isolation can significantly impact veterans’ mental health and compound conditions like depression or PTSD. Make an effort to spend quality time with the veteran through regular visits, phone calls to check in, accompanying them on outings and activities, and including them in family gatherings when possible. Offer emotional support by being a compassionate listener when they want to open up or reminisce.
Connecting over shared memories and inside jokes and letting them know you genuinely enjoy their company can be therapeutic. Maintaining social bonds assists veterans in feeling valued and part of a community. Dealing with trauma is easier when they know their family has their back.
Assist with Daily Tasks
Day-to-day activities like cleaning, laundry, grocery shopping, cooking, driving to appointments, and paying bills can become challenging for some elderly or disabled veterans. Offer hands-on help with household chores, driving them to run errands, grocery shopping together, or stopping by to cook a meal. You can also assist in setting up automatic bill pay or online grocery delivery.
Making these daily tasks easier reduces frustration and maintains a sense of independence for veterans needing support. Offer assistance while allowing them to still do what they can independently. Patience is key — let them set the pace.
Watch for Signs of PTSD
PTSD and trauma-related mental health issues are very common among veterans. Pay attention to symptoms like anxiety, depression, sleep disturbances, nightmares, irritability, angry outbursts, emotional numbness, relationship issues, and avoiding people or situations that remind them of trauma. Encourage veterans to seek counseling through the VA or a local PTSD treatment program. Support groups can also help veterans cope with traumatic war memories in a community that understands what they went through.
Be understanding if they seem withdrawn or on edge at times. Don’t take it personally. With empathy and support, the effects of PTSD can be managed. By watching for warning signs, you can guide your veteran family members toward the help they need while dealing with the aftermath of trauma.
Provide a Stable Home Environment
Having familiar, comfortable surroundings can aid healing for some veterans with PTSD and other conditions. Invite the veteran family member to come to live with your family full-time or temporarily after a medical procedure, or visit them often if they have their own home. Maintain consistent daily routines for meals, activities, and sleep schedules. Avoid overstimulation from loud noises, crowds, and chaos. A calm, stable environment helps veterans feel secure.
Encourage Healthy Habits
Promoting positive lifestyle habits can greatly help improve a veteran’s daily well-being. Prepare and share nutritious meals, take short walks together for exercise, suggest relaxing hobbies like reading or gardening, and set a positive routine. Avoid enabling unhealthy coping mechanisms like smoking, heavy drinking, overeating, or constant isolation.
Instead, they build their physical health through diet and activity and mental health through social connection. Caring encouragement goes a long way. They’ll feel better while also learning to manage chronic conditions. Lead by example – they may just follow your healthy habits.
Connect with Other Veteran Families
It can be incredibly comforting for veterans and their caregivers to connect with other veteran families going through similar experiences. Research local support groups for veterans, caregivers, or specific conditions like ALS, PTSD, or dementia and attend meetings together. You can also volunteer as a family at local veteran organizations and bond over shared understanding.
Building a network of people who “get it” because they’ve been there reduces feelings of loneliness and isolation. Share solutions that have worked for you as well. Caring for a veteran can be challenging, but gaining a community makes it easier. You are not alone.
Caring for a veteran family member requires empathy, patience, and commitment. But assisting them leads to immense personal rewards. By providing practical support, a stable environment, social connection, and access to resources, we can greatly enhance their health, quality of life, and sense of purpose. Showing our veterans unconditional compassion and appreciation for their service is the least we can do to honor their tremendous sacrifices. With some helpful tips, we can all be better equipped to take good care of the veterans in our families.