Veteran Caregivers Can Be Men, But No One Recognizes That

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U.S. Army Shooting Coach and Paralympic Gold Medalist, Roger Withrow helps button up the coat of U.S. Army National Guard Sgt. Jodie Lemons, Warrior Transition Battalion, Bethesda, Md. before the pistol shooting event at the 2015 Department of Defense Warrior Games June 26, Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va.
.S. Army Photo by 1st Lt. Antonia E. Pearse

In late September, the Elizabeth Dole Foundation launched a new nonprofit initiative called Hidden Heroes, a resource network and fellowship program intended to recognize the underappreciated contribution of those who care for physically and psychologically disabled veterans. At the launch gala, actor Tom Hanks introduced the program and noted, “By military caregivers … we’re talking about wives, and family members, and girlfriends, and kids, and parents.”


Caregivers to veterans give time, energy, and resources for little credit. Many of them are women, but what about the nearly half of caregivers who are men: husbands, boyfriends, and male friends who care for disabled veterans?

Hidden Heroes was not alone in their attention to a homogenous group of caregivers: The VA’s “Caregiver Connections” pages only tell the stories of female caregivers supporting male veterans. Caregiver-related pages for major veteran service organization American Legion similarly depicts a female caregiver and a male veteran.  

U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jonathan Snyder

An Airman assigned to the 606th Air Control Squadron reunites with her loved one during the squadron’s return from deployment to Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, Oct. 20, 2016.

Male caregivers receive minimal attention, even though a Rand report commissioned by the Elizabeth Dole Foundation found that more than 40% of veterans’ caregivers are men. Many of those male caregivers support some of the over two million women veterans (over 300,000 of whom are combat veterans) in the United States.

I am one of those women veterans, and one of those male caregivers is my partner. I have never publicly written about him before, but he undoubtedly deserves credit. A veteran of the war in Afghanistan, he’s also thoughtful and nurturing. I live with chronic pain, often cannot complete basic household tasks, and spend a full day out of nearly every week at VA appointments. He does every household task and errand to account for both my disability and my lost time so that I am not disadvantaged while we both go to school full time. He does not fit the stereotypical image of “caregiver” and deserves all the support I would get were the roles reversed.  

Despite the reality that plenty of men actively care of their partners and children, caregiving and domestic roles are traditionally considered “women’s work.” There is an expectation that women will assume caregiving responsibility; when break this stereotype, it is considered specifically remarkable. Unless men’s domestic, nurturing contributions are fully acknowledged and supported, caregiving will remain in an invisible, subordinated status, solely the patriotic duty of female caregivers selflessly toiling in the domestic sphere.

Inclusivity in organizations supporting veterans is imperative. Without it, underserved populations of veterans, especially women and LGBT veterans, remain marginalized. Caregivers cannot truly be recognized and supported without acknowledging the diversity of the veteran population.

By visibly focusing attention only on the military/veteran wife as caregiver, support networks attempt to alleviate one problem while perpetuating the issue of invisibility. It is only nominally relevant whether or not the organization actually provides resources for male caregivers. Without being a visibly inclusive organizations, these resource networks communicate to male caregivers and women veterans that, like most veterans’ service organizations, they are not built for them. The result is that underserved populations and their needs remain hidden from the public eye.

U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Aliah Reyes, a Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) recovery team recovery noncommissioned officer, sifts through dirt during a recovery mission in Lang Son Province, Vietnam, Oct. 29, 2019. (Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Rusty Frank)

The 80-minute ride each day to the site in Lang Son Province, Vietnam, through mostly unspoiled forestland and fields, reminded Air Force Master Sgt. Aliah Reyes a little of her hometown back in Maine.

The Eliot native recently returned from a 45-day mission to the Southeast Asian country, where she was part of a team conducting a search for a Vietnam War service member who went missing more than 45 years ago and is presumed dead.

Reyes, 38, enlisted in the Air Force out of high school and has spent more than half her life in military service. But she had never been a part of anything like this.

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"Quite frankly, this is not just about burn pits — it's about the way we go to war as a country," Stewart said during his Jan. 17 visit to Washington, D.C. "We always have money to make war. We need to always have money to take care of what happens to people who are selfless enough, patriotic enough, to wage those wars on our behalf."

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