Blog by Bonnie Petrauskas, Executive Director, Worldwide Corporate Contributions
“That was the first time I’d ever sat down with people and they just understood. It was like a healing process for me to know that there are others out here, that I’m not alone.” These words of relief and hope come from Gina, a mother of two teenage sons and wife to Jack, a veteran of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.
Gina is one of the 1.1 million people who, after 9/11, found themselves providing daily support to loved ones returning from war. She has been virtually invisible in the veteran healthcare debate and the public narrative around “supporting our troops.” Military caregivers like Gina play a critical role as veterans start their journey to recovery, by helping them navigate complex healthcare systems, providing transportation, financial management, and offering emotional and physical support. Being the family’s rock, though, can take its toll.
Military caregivers, who number 5.5 million in the U.S., consistently experience worse health outcomes, greater strains in family relationships, and more workplace problems than non-caregivers. And because the average age of deployment is 29 years of age, these individuals are likely to need care for many years after returning home.
Operation Family Caregiver, a program launched by the former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, helps spouses and other caregivers of service members as they navigate the unexpected difficulties that arise when their loved ones return home. In partnership with Johnson & Johnson, the program has had a significant impact on caregivers’ lives, with participants reporting enhanced quality of life and psychological well-being.
“It was my saving grace, because I was completely out of energy to fight the battle anymore,” said Gina, when recalling her life before joining a support group at the Southern Caregiver Resource Center, near San Diego.
On July 29th, Operation Family Caregiver will be hosting the Uniting Forces to Support Military Caregivers summit, bringing together members of the White House, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, various service organizations and stories from the women who care for military veterans every day. This event is meant to serve as a lightning rod moment to raise greater public awareness around the critical role played by family caregivers, bring their stories of courage and hope out of the shadows, and advocate for support to caregivers as a public health priority. The issue of family – and military – caregiving has an impact that goes far beyond the very individuals who provide care. It concerns entire families, communities, and our society as whole.
Together with likeminded partners, we at Johnson & Johnson can be a key player in helping military families get better access to resources, reduce caregiver burden, and improve family well-being.