Veteran Caregivers 2018
How can the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs better support Veteran caregivers, including through digital tools and services?
- Dani Cinali
- Brandon Lee
- Amelia Sampat
- Matthew Spector
- Katherine Spies
“One of the ways I found out I was a true caregiver—in 2009, in middle of the night, I was picked up and thrown across the room.”
At the beginning of the semester, our team was tasked with working with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to develop a digital tool to better support informal caregivers — family and friends who care for a Veteran. We knew that a huge part of meeting that goal was to speak directly to caregivers and understand their daily experiences. But what we didn’t know was the depth and complexity of caregivers’ lives that we would uncover.
After 25 interviews with caregivers, a dozen interviews with Veterans, two in-person site visits, and more than a dozen interviews with experts working across support, advocacy, and think tank organizations, we found that:
- Veteran caregivers don't always realize that they hold this identity
- Caregivers don’t always know how to connect with local resources and support that could make their lives easier
- Many caregivers use social media instead of formal networks to get emotional support and access to resources
- Caregivers often need to balance their caregiving work with other responsibilities and personal time
Our team produced 42 distinct, yet interconnected ideas for solutions. We settled on three main ideas: a Caregiver Forum for caregivers to connect, a caregiving.vets.gov website that would personalize resources for each caregiver, and a Caregiving Coordinator Administrator application that would let caregiver coordinators (the VA social workers and professionals who help caregivers navigate the health system) easily access information about caregivers in their local area.
We are confident that our proposed solutions have tremendous potential to impact the lives of both new and experienced caregivers, their Veterans, and improve the day-to-day experience of caregiving. We are hopeful and excited to see what DSVA and VA take from our team's work moving forward!