What You Should Know About Caring for Older Veterans

Soldier in uniform and doctor shaking hands with national flag on background - United States

By Jessica Still on July 12, 2016

Compared to their civilian counterparts, senior citizens who served in the military are at higher risk for a wide range of significant health problems. And in deference to their service, many of these seniors have access to veteran programs to accommodate their special needs. If you care for an older veteran, there are a few things you ought to know:

Vets Risk for Suicide

Soldier in uniform and doctor shaking hands with national flag on background - United States

The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that 22 veterans commit suicide every day. In fact, the rate of suicide among seniors is nearly twice as high for veterans. This may partially be the result of the large number of veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which the National Comorbidity Survey found to be linked to an increased risk of suicide. Some studies have suggested that nearly one third of men and one fourth of women exposed to a warzone will meet the criteria for PTSD at some point during their lives.

Many people believe they would see a suicide coming, but there are often no signs. Many suicides are made impulsively, where the feelings that cause a person to make the decision to die occur only moments or hours in advance. Where signs do exist, suicidal people tend to express an absence of hope for the future, self-loathing, or may spontaneously set their affairs in order. If you find yourself concerned for a loved one, you can call the National Suicide Prevention line at 800-273-TALK.

Coping with Communication

A recent Pew survey regarding veterans and mental health statistics found that about one quarter of veterans report difficulty adjusting to civilian life, a number that nearly doubles for veterans who served in wartime. Countless veterans return from their service with significant life adjustment problems in their work or marriages, and those problems may be chronic throughout their lives.

Talking to someone who understands the struggles of being a veteran can be an invaluable asset. That’s why Vets4Warriors runs a 24-hour toll-free hotline, connecting veterans to other veterans who can help them through their problems. The service is anonymous and confidential. No matter what problems you’re facing, there’s a compassionate veteran on the other end of the line ready to listen and follow up. You can connect with another veteran at 855-838-8255, or Vets4Warriors.com to access their live-chat service.

Female Veterans at Risk

There are more women serving in the military than ever before, and that means there are an increasing number of female veterans. In fact, the number of female veterans over the age of 65 is anticipated to nearly double over the next decade. Caregivers need to know about this increase because a number of studies have found that female veterans are at risk for a number of distinct health problems.

For instance, female veterans are at significantly higher risk of suffering a hip fracture than their non-veteran counterparts. They’re also much more likely to suffer from lung cancer, more likely to be dissatisfied with their lives, and more likely to face cognitive decline in old age. Providing adequate care for these veterans’ means appreciating it’s likely you’ll need to compensate for the mental and physical challenges that so often come with service.

A Bright Future in Care

In 2010, the Senate granted veterans of the post-9/11 era access to some of the most expansive caregiver benefits in our nation’s history.  The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee recently revealed an initiative to expand these benefits to all elderly veterans, a multibillion dollar plan that will mean many caregivers of veterans will gain access to health insurance options, cash stipends, guaranteed reprieve to prevent burnout, and improved training.

While these benefits haven’t yet passed in the Senate, they enjoy bipartisan support, and could be implemented for older generations of veterans within only one or two years after all the red tape is handled. Taking care of our veterans who need assisted living is of paramount importance, and better equipping caregivers to the task will go a long ways towards helping our heroes.

Do you have an older loved one who is a veteran? What are some of the issues you’ve seen them confront? How have you and your family tried to help them? We’d love to hear your stories in the comments below.