Veteran Caregivers, The Unsung Heroes

| March 3, 2023 | Ariana Caragliano

Veteran CaregiverVeteran caregivers are spouses, parents, and other loved ones of wounded, ill and injured service members. They provide physical and emotional care and often simultaneously juggle work, family responsibilities, and caregiving duties.

Learn more about our Keystone Program.

The life of a veteran caregiver to a wounded veteran is often difficult. An excellent place to start understanding the heavy load military caregivers carry is to recognize the type of injuries the care receivers suffered in the line of duty, the roles the caregiver must play, the financial burdens they must shoulder, and the continuing support they need.

Who Is A Veteran Caregiver? 

While there is no formal description of a veteran caregiver, the accepted definition is a person who cares for an active-duty service member or veteran who is seriously ill or suffered a serious injury caused by military service.

The Toll That Injuries Have on the Veteran Caregiver

Thousands of service members come home with both visible and invisible injuries each year. Each injury is different and requires a different level of support. Post-9/11 service members are more likely to bear scars from battle.

With the increasing use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), both physical injuries and psychological injuries, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), have increased.

These injuries can lead to a broad range of physical and mental challenges, including depression and anxiety. Studies show that this can directly result from exposure to extreme stress and life-or-death situations.

Some of the most challenging injuries to manage are invisible ones like PTSD.

First, these wounds can result in unpredictable behavior that can be hard on service members, veteran caregivers, military families and the community.

Second, treatment can be ongoing for life. And third, left untreated, the Pentagon has estimated that as many as 78% of former service members with PTSD are likely to divorce.

The resulting toll on the veteran caregiver, their families and children can be catastrophic.

study by Pew Research Center found that those who have served after 9/11 are twice as likely to serve in a combat zone, being deployed more than once and report having an emotionally traumatizing experience compared to pre-9/11 veterans. Approximately 1 million veterans of the Iraq War alone are estimated to have PTSD. According to a study by Pew Research, 42% of post-9/11 veterans report that the military harmed their mental health, compared to 17% of pre-9/11.

Relationship Veteran Caregivers Have With The Recipient

A veteran caregiver is often the unspoken hero of the military family. With 5.5 million veteran caregivers nationally, according to a 2014 report from RAND Corporation, 33.2 percent of post-9/11 caregivers are the spouse, partner or significant other compared to 22.3 percent of pre-9/11 caregivers. Pre-9/11 caregivers are more likely to be the child of the service member. This trend places an increased burden on the family, where a veteran caregiver must also play other family roles, including child rearing, home management and working outside the home.

The Role Of The Veteran Caregiver

Veteran caregivers wear many hats when they help those they care for live better-quality lives, from acting as case managers to emotional support to legal and financial roles. Caregivers often become the advocate for the person they are caring for.

Although an essential role, caregiving is challenging, especially with military-affiliated families. Consider the length of care: the average duration of civilian caregiving is four years, according to the Family Caregiver Alliance, yet the average duration of caregiving in military-affiliated families is ten years or twice the rate of other caregiving groups.

The time investment required to help a wounded veteran heal and adapt to a post-injury civilian life varies depending on the injury, access to medical care and caregiving requirements and needs to be examined independently.

When her husband was injured, Natasha Pickard’s world changed. She became tasked with being the primary caregiver to her husband and the full-time parent of her three youngest children. She worked through many obstacles, including searching for information, understanding her husband’s physical challenges, relocating the family and explaining to her children what happened to their father.

Through everything, Natasha found community and support when she needed it. She was not afraid to ask for help. Now, Natasha works for Yellow Ribbon Fund as the Houston caregiver support program (Keystone) coordinator to ensure caregivers have all the knowledge, resources and support they need.

Financial Impact Of Caregiving

The financial toll on veteran caregivers and their families with injured veterans is high. According to a report on the health care costs of veterans, the 6-month estimated total cost of health care was $10,773. The cost for those with a traumatic brain injury alone was $11,700; for those with both traumatic brain injury and PTSD, it was $13,800 as of 2012. In addition to veterans’ healthcare costs, families may have to move out of military housing, relocate closer to medical facilities and adjust to related expenses.

The economic impact of these injuries on the U.S. economy is also high. In 2016, the Department of Veterans Affairs estimated that medical care for veterans cost $64.65 billion, while $848 million was spent on rehabilitation. The study also estimates the total costs to rise to 1.2 trillion by 2053, including medical expenses for veterans and future war efforts.

Veteran Caregivers Support

Nobody ever plans to be a veteran caregiver. Most veteran caregivers are typically thrown into a role they never wanted, completely ill-prepared. Plus, veteran caregivers shoulder additional unique challenges associated with military life. This is precisely why Yellow Ribbon Fund created its Keystone Program. The Keystone Program empowers veteran caregivers with

  • Peer-to-peer caregiver support
  • Career development opportunities
  • Respite care
  • Veteran caregiver retreats such as family Disney trips and Family wellness retreats
  • Veteran caregiver education
  • Emotional support

Elizabeth B., a Yellow Ribbon Fund’s Keystone Program veteran caregiver recipient, said, “I would like to let you know what a treasure and lifeline Yellow Ribbon Fund’s Keystone Caregiver group has been for me. It was vital for me to have other women who could relate to what I’m going through as a combat veteran caregiver.”

Yellow Ribbon Fund Keystone Program Chapter Locations

Yellow Ribbon Fund proudly offers veteran caregivers with local communities across the country. These locations include:

  • Maryland, Washington D.C. and Virginia
  • Tampa, Florida
  • Colorado Springs, Colorado
  • Houston, Texas
  • San Antonio, Texas
  • Fort Campbell, Kentucky
  • Northern California
  • Southern California

Yellow Ribbon Fund’s national virtual chapter is available for caregivers without a local chapter.

Additional Veteran Caregivers Support Services And Resources

While the number of disabled veterans has increased, the number of veteran caregivers has also increased. The number of veteran caregivers supporting veterans with severe disabilities has grown from 1.5 million in 2011 to 2.6 million in 2015. In other words, the number of family caregivers has more than doubled in the five years since the end of the Iraq War (1988).

One of the most important resources for a caregiver is information. Although many caregiver resources are available, veteran caregivers fall into a unique group. Yellow Ribbon Fund helps close the gap in support for veteran caregivers.

We highly recommend that veteran caregivers also reference the Resource Directory published by the Department of Defense. The Caregiver Resource Directory includes the most commonly referenced resources, organizations, agencies and programs that support the caregivers of wounded, ill, or injured service members. The Caregiver Resource Directory connects communities with caregivers, building public awareness and support for caregivers.

There is still a growing need for an expansion of these services. Caregivers make a big difference in the lives of their service members. From their personal sacrifices, their time and sometimes their own health, veteran caregivers are truly the unsung heroes of the military family.

Learn more about our Keystone Program.

Some helpful links include:

  • Air Force Wounded Warrior (80) 581-9437
  • VA Caregiver Support (855) 260-3274
  • Military Health System and the Defense Health Agency
  • National Resource Directory
  • Military OneSource (800) 342-964
  • Immediate care call centers are also available. These can include:
  • Veterans Crisis Line – If you are having thoughts of suicide, call 1-800-273-8255, then press 1. or you can chat at (24/7).
  • Wounded Warrior Project helpline is 888-997-2586 (24/7)
  • V.A. Women Veteran Call Center – Call or text 855-829-6636 (M-F 8 a.m.– 10 p.m. & Saturday 8 a.m. – 6:30 p.m. EST)
  • Vet Center – 877-WAR-VETS (24/7)
  • Real Warriors Campaign – Psychological Health Resource Center (PHRC)
  • George W. Bush Institute – Need help or want to talk? Check In or call: 630-522-4904 or email: checkin@veteranwellnessalliance.orgVA Caregiver Support Line – Call 1-855-260-3274 (M-F 8AM – 10PM & SAT 8AM – 5PM ET)
  • Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) – to request a peer mentor follow the link

Other resources include self-help mobile apps through the Veterans Administration that provide tools to help with reactions such as stress, sadness and anxiety; Moving Forward Overcoming Life’s Challenges online educational and life coaching program designed for service members and their families; PTSD Coach Online to learn tools to deal with trauma responses like sadness and anxiety; and self-assessments through the Lone Survivor Foundation.

All of these resources are readily available to veteran caregivers who need help. More information can be found on our resource page.

Veteran Caregivers Retreats

As a veteran caregiver, sometimes you just have to get away. The Yellow Ribbon Fund hosts an annual family at the prestigious private Ocean Reef Club resort in Key Largo, Florida. Yellow Ribbon Club families from all over the United States enjoy time together while experiencing wellness opportunities throughout their stay. Every Yellow Ribbon Fund military family is provided access to the Yellow Ribbon Fun Family Retreats at no cost.

Veteran caregivers may apply for the Yellow Ribbon Fund Family Retreat here.

Other military nonprofits offer family retreats as well, such as Luke’s Wings and Renewal Coalition Retreat. Each retreat and organization is different, so choose the best one for you and your family.

Yellow Ribbon Fund’s Keystone Program

The Yellow Ribbon Fund Keystone Program is offered at no cost to the veteran caregiver and is funded by private and public sector donations.

Annually, Yellow Ribbon Fund provides support to over 1,600 veteran caregivers. Yellow Ribbon Fund depends on private donations and corporate sponsorships.

Make a Change

If you want to change a life today and support the Yellow Ribbon Fund’s veteran caregiver program, email or visit


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Ariana Caragliano

Ariana Caragliano

Mrs. Caragliano, formally a Program Specialist worked for The Graduate Center, conducting marketing research, building contact lists, and identifying program partners for event programs. Read More