ARLINGTON, Va. — It’s likely at some point in life one will hear a phrase like, “two heads are better than one” or “teamwork makes the dream work.” However, phrases like these all boil down to a simple four letter word, help.
This November during Warrior Care Month, where we salute the warriors and those that support them in their recovery, we want to highlight a program designed to specifically help and support caregivers. The Military Caregiver Personalized Experiences, Engagement and Resources Forum Initiative, or PEER Forum was established in June 2014 and championed in large part by former First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden. PEER Forums provide military caregivers a forum for them to share experiences and provide each other support. According to Sandra Mason, Director, Recovery Coordination Program, Defense Health Agency, PEER Forums are a confidential portal to help for all caregivers.
“Caregivers discuss a range of topics during a (PEER) Forum; however, due to the sensitive and personal nature of the topics, maintaining privacy is critical,” Mason said. “We do see trends in the type of issues and discussions that happen and have noted some topics that are routinely discussed, which we have labeled as the ‘Big 10’, these include physical health, behavioral health, transportation, employment, financial, education and respite care, among others.”
PEER Forums are available to anyone caring for a wounded, ill or injured service member and are not restricted to family members. “Anyone who helps care for a recovering service member, in any capacity, is considered a caregiver and encouraged to participate (in a Forum),” Mason said. “That being said, caregivers are busy individuals with hectic schedules, so we try to accommodate them as best as possible. There is always value in sharing information and encouraging caregivers to seek out additional local supports.”
Mason says the PEER Forums, which are open to those in either the active or reserve components, are producing positive support and it the benefits are clear. “By forming small communities of support for each other we’ve seen caregivers begin to flourish in their new role, and as individuals. We’ve seen caregivers encourage each other to go to school, look for jobs that are conducive to their schedules, become well known activists for the military community and advocate on Capitol Hill for additional support for military caregivers across the country. By helping one another, many caregivers are helping themselves and are encouraged and inspired to be the best advocate and support for their recovering service member.”
One of the challenges Mason says with PEER Forums is getting the word out to caregivers. Communities across America can encourage care givers to participate in PEER Forums.
“While caregivers provide this support willingly, they also need time for themselves and time to engage with other caregivers and the community at-large. The need for respite care is a big issue for our caregivers and the community should take note and help support,” Mason said. “It is imperative that we collectively support our military caregivers, bolster their strength, give them opportunities to connect with their peers, and provide guidance and resources to help them care for themselves, as well as their service member.”
To learn more about PEER Forums and to see the one closest to you go to DoD Warrior Care