The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan disproportionately affect rural areas, which provide more than the average number of recruits. The soldiers who make it home alive come back changed, with traumatic brain damage, post-traumatic stress syndrome or other injuries that require full-time care. Mostly wives and older parents are left bearing the burden.
Catrin Einhorn of The New York Times reports that many caregivers have to quit their jobs and are forced to spend their savings and retirement funds to pay for treatment. A growing number of caregivers suffer from anxiety, depression and exhaustion as a result of their new routines. Rosie Babin, 51-year-old mother of a severely wounded 22-year-old son, was managing an accounting office before her son’s injury. Though she’s happy to have her son home alive, she now has to take blood-pressure medicine and sleeping pills. “I felt like I went from this high-energy, force-to-be-reckoned-with businesswoman to a casualty of war,” Babin told Einhorn. “And I was working furiously at not feeling like a victim of war.”
According to research by Joan Griffin, a research investigator with the Minneapolis Veterans Affairs Health Care System, most of the injured are in their 20s and 30s, making this the first time since Vietnam the V.A. has seen such an influx of youth, which extending the length of care to years and sometimes decades. On average, Griffin found that family members spend more than 40 hours a week providing care, making it nearly impossible for them to keep a job.
Organizations like the Wounded Warrior Project have tried to ease the financial burden on these families by lobbying Congress to provide direct compensation and other benefits to caregivers and their families. In 2010, the veteran’s agency approved 1,222 applications and awarded monthly stipends of $1,600 to $1,800 to caregivers. Along with the money, they can receive health insurance and counseling, Einhorn reports. This law only applies to caregivers of service members injured after Sept. 11, 2001, and it’s uncertain who will qualify and how compensation will be determined.