(News/Talk 1480 WHBC and Ohio News Connection)) – Ohio’s 1.5 million caregivers face daily challenges, and it’s a role that’s even more complicated for the families of military members.

There are an estimated 5.5 million military and veteran caregivers in the U.S., and their loved ones often are suffering from battle-inflicted wounds or are coping with unique physical or emotional needs related to their service. James Crawford, executive council with AARP Ohio, said many military families also are not living in a familiar community.

“They may be entirely separate from family support, and the primary-care provider can feel isolated and alone. That’s a crucial element that can be difficult over the longer term,” Crawford said. “So that complexity makes caregiving for the military something that can be extraordinarily challenging. ”

He said only 15% of military caregiving programs focus on the caregiver, so AARP has created a “Prepare to Care” guide. Crawford said it provides a fundamental look at what caregiving is, how to find supports, and specific services that are available for military members.

According to Veterans Administration data, of the 775,000 military veterans who call Ohio home, about 135,000 have a service-related injury.

Crawford said it’s important to speak with a loved one about their health-care wishes, and develop a roadmap that can make the caregiving process easier.

“It requires a plan to be made, and that means that you have to find out who the providers are, you have to find out where the insurance coverage is, you have to find out – if they are still in the military – what services are available in what part of the world they are located in and how to access those services,” he said.

Crawford noted military caregivers often experience worse health outcomes, greater strains in family relationships and more workplace problems than non-caregivers. However, he said the good news is there are a variety of resources that military families can access for help that others can’t.

“Some of the facilities that are available, if you can access those and you find out how to make the best use of them, can provide a quality of care and a comfort level for the provider and an ability to serve well without feeling burdened,” he said; “because the military has its own good strong network of how to support their own.”

The 44-page guide was developed in collaboration with the Elizabeth Dole Foundation and is available online at aarp.org by searching “military caregiving.”

(Mary Schuermann Kuhlman)