What to Do When You Need a Break From Caregiving

Serving as the caregiver for an injured loved one can be emotionally and physically taxing, and though you may be concerned solely with helping your loved one cope, you must remember that your physical and emotional health are important, as well.  Family caregivers frequently provide care for their service member or veteran around the clock while also maintaining a career and caring for a home and children. It's easy to understand how you could become overwhelmed.

Though you have a deep commitment to caring for your loved one, it's OK to ask for a break. Taking breaks is key to maintaining your role as a caregiver. Family and friends may be able to give you short periods of time on a regular basis, but sometimes you may need more. It may be time for you to explore respite care options in your area.

What is respite care?

Respite care is a service that pays for a person to come to a service member's or veteran's home or for the service member or veteran to attend a program while their caregiver takes a break.  Respite care allow caregivers like you a chance to lower your stress by running errands, going out of town, attending appointments of your own or just relaxing and thinking of yourself for a little while.

Respite caregivers or centers that provide respite care can assist with medication management, activities of daily living, such as bathing and dressing, and all other day-to-day needs.  Respite sessions can last several hours to several days based upon the needs of the caregiver and the service member's eligibility for services.

Respite care options

There are several options available for respite care, some in the home and some that offer a stay for your loved one in a care facility.  Researching what is available in your area and talking with representatives about eligibility and the services they provide can help you feel more comfortable with the respite care process and decide which program is right for your family. 

TRICARE Active Duty - The TRICARE Extended Care Health Option benefit can give caregivers of active duty service members a break using the respite care benefit.  A service member may receive up to 16 hours per month when receiving other authorized ECHO benefits or up to 40 hours per week if homebound. Visit the TRICARE respite benefits page for more information.

TRICARE Veteran - Under the TRICARE veteran benefits, Veterans Affairs medical centers can give the veteran's caregiver a break by providing up to 30 days of respite care in a calendar year. Respite services may be provided at the VA medical center, in a community setting or in the veteran's home.  This is a covered benefit for all veterans who are enrolled in the VA health care system or who are eligible for VA health care. Visit Benefits.gov or the VA's website for more details.

National Resource Directory - The National Resource Directory connects wounded warriors, service members, veterans, their families and caregivers with resources that support them.  To locate further national, state and local resources and to find information on additional benefits and respite programs, visit their website.

What if we need more assistance?

Respite services can be very beneficial and provide temporary stress relief for family caregivers; however, when caregiving becomes a long-term commitment, sometimes families need more.  Whether that assistance is a more regular program or a retreat that solely focuses on the caregiver and making connections with others in similar situations, there are options out there.

Veterans Affairs Adult Day Health Care Programs - Adult day health services through the VA are for veterans who need skilled services, case management and assistance with activities of daily living (such as bathing and dressing), who are isolated or whose caregiver is experiencing burden.  Health services from nurses, therapists and social workers may be available. These programs are provided at VA medical centers, state VA homes or through various community organizations. Veterans can attend day services up to five days per week if they meet the clinical need for services and space is available. Visit the VA website for more information.

National Resource Directory - The National Resource Directory is a searchable database that can help locate further national, state and local resources that support service members and their caregivers with programs that suit long-term needs.

Being a caregiver to a service member or veteran is a labor of love. Remember that stopping to take care of yourself is not a selfish decision; it's a decision that makes you a stronger caregiver for your loved one. Respite care options exist to lighten your load and to keep family relationships healthy.


Find programs and services at your local installation.

View a directory of installations

Service members, family members, surviving family members, service providers and leaders rely on Military OneSource for policy, procedures, timely articles, cutting-edge social media tools and support. All in one place, empowering our military community.