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Securing Flexible Employment Is a Battle Our Military Caregivers Face

Caring for a wounded veteran is a full-time job.

About three in 10 wounded veterans need the aid and attendance of another person because of their injuries and health problems. Among them, more than one‐fourth need more than 40 hours of aid every week, according to the 2018 Wounded Warrior Project’s Annual Warrior Survey.

Melissa Comeau understands the demands of caregiving. In 2013, Comeau’s husband was medically retired due to multiple injuries sustained during four combat deployments to both Iraq and Afghanistan. His constant care is often an obstacle for Comeau’s employment.

“In my case, my husband’s injuries are not stable. While we reach points of recovery, I know there’s no endpoint where he will be 100% again,” Comeau said. “There’s a looming concern that any medical setbacks for him will impact my ability to maintain gainful employment.”

Consequently Comeau hesitated before accepting a part-time, remote position.

“It was my first time dipping my toes into employment since my husband’s retirement,” Comeau told Hiring Our Heroes. “Before that, I felt like I couldn’t leave him and I didn’t feel like an employer would understand everything we have going on.”

Employment issues are compounded for military spouses who are also caregivers to wounded warriors.

Melissa Comeau

Comeau, a Military Family Advisory Network advisor and former Elizabeth Dole Foundation fellow, said there’s a stigma surrounding all caregivers — not just military caregivers.

“We live in a culture where you put your head down and you work. We are reluctant to share how our experiences at home are impacting our work,” she said.

41% of Wounded Warrior Spouses Earn Less Than $25,000 Annually

Employment issues impact military spouses almost universally, but the impacts are compounded for military caregivers.

The 2017 Blue Star Families Military Family Lifestyle Survey found that 30% of military caregiver respondents reported being unemployed. Approximately 41% of spouses of wounded warriors earn less than $25,000 per year or no income at all, and 27.3% of them earn between $25,000 and $50,000 per year, according to the 2018 Wounded Warrior Project’s Annual Warrior Survey.

“As we enter the eighteenth year of America’s longest-running war, it is unacceptable that our nation’s military spouses and caregivers are facing a battle on the home front to carve out economic opportunity and financial stability for themselves and their families,” said Eric Eversole, president of Hiring Our Heroes, and vice president at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Hiring Our Heroes is working to reduce unemployment rates for military caregivers.

Earlier this year, Wounded Warrior Project awarded a grant to Hiring Our Heroes along with Blue Star Families and Military Family Advisory Network. This $225,000 grant funds efforts to connect military spouses and caregivers with employment services.

Through this grant, Hiring Our Heroes is working to register Blue Star Families’ Spouse and Caregivers Careers Program participants for upcoming Career Summits. We are also providing networking connections between employers and military caregivers through our Military Spouse Economic Empowerment Zones.

‘You Can Adapt and Overcome’

The first step to connecting caregivers with employment is putting their resumes in the hands of hiring managers at military-ready employers. These employers attend many of our hiring events, sponsored by VEAC and MSEAC member, Wounded Warrior Project.

Employers at WWP-sponsored hiring events are more likely to understand the needs of military caregivers.

“I hear a lot about (military caregivers) needing time off to take their spouses to their appointments at the VA clinic,” Comeau said.

The employer may want the caregiver to schedule medical appointments at the end of the workday. But veterans aren’t given appointment time options, Comeau explained.

“Since you don’t pick your appointment times, it creates awkward conversations with your employer about why you have so many appointments and why can’t you make these appointments at more convenient times,” Comeau said.

Does your military-ready company want to employ military caregivers? Download Hiring Our Heroes and Paralyzed Veterans of America’s “Paving Access to Employment for America’s Hidden Heroes: Creating a Military-Caregiver Friendly Workplace” guide. This guide outlines the challenges that military caregivers face and outlines workplace policies that benefit all employees.

Comeau encouraged military caregivers to try to find employment using the resiliency skills that they developed as military spouses.

“With today’s technology and telework there really are a lot of opportunities for you to interject your skills back into the workforce,” she said. “Just like the military adapts to overcome, you can adapt and overcome with your employment.”

Comeau leads the American Red Cross Military and Veteran Caregiver Network. The Red Cross has a paid time off pool. Employees donate their time off to other employees who have depleted their paid time off and FMLA benefits. In addition, the Red Cross offers free confidential counseling to their employees.

“That shows a culture of caring that I’ve never seen before,” Comeau said.

A corporate culture of caring may increase employee satisfaction and reduce resignations for all employees, not just caregivers.

On episode 131 of Hiring Our Heroes Sitrep podcast, Houston Rockets Director of Human Relations Kristen Harper attributed the Rockets’ corporate culture as one reason for its low turnover.

“We do a good job of taking care of our employees, whether it’s being flexible with them, being family orientated or understanding what their personal needs are. None of us are perfect and we all have things going on outside of work. It’s a matter of how do we handle it and how we help each other get through it,” Harper said.

More Employment Resources for Military Caregivers

Paralyzed Veterans of America offers vocational counseling and job placement assistance to veterans and their caregivers through their Paving Access for Veterans Employment (PAVE) program. This no-cost program assists with job search strategies and resume development. The PAVE program strives to place at least one client every day, said Paralyzed Veterans of America’s Director of Communications Liz Deakin.

“PVA’s employment program works every day to help veterans, their spouses and caregivers find meaningful employment,” she said.

Earlier this year, LinkedIn expanded its offer of LinkedIn Premium to family members of wounded veterans who are enrolled in the VA’s caregiver program. Through LinkedIn, military caregivers can network virtually with other military spouses, military support organizations, and military-ready employers. To learn how you can leverage LinkedIn in your job search, register to attend an upcoming Hiring Our Heroes event.

Military caregivers may also want to connect with the Elizabeth Dole Foundation’s Hidden Heroes campaign. This first-of-its-kind website includes testimonials from military caregivers who share their personal stories; a vetted directory of valuable resources; the opportunity to join a private Facebook community for military caregivers; and calls-to-action for communities and individuals to get involved.

The 2019 Military Spouse Employment Summit will include a panel discussion on military spouses as caregivers and the impacts of being a caregiver on employment opportunities. Registration is now open for the summit, taking place on June 20 in Washington, D.C. Visit Military Spouse Employment Summit for more information about this event.

Hiring Our Heroes encourages employers to remember those who are caring for our veterans and wounded warriors. Learn more about the resources available through our partners here.

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A Program of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation