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Which Class of 43 Million people was Conspicuously Omitted in Trump's SOTU?


February 7, 2019

While some sat on their hands, others leaped to their feet to applaud President Trump’s soaring appeal during his State of the Union Address for the current Congress to honor its legacy by tackling immense issues. Border security, immigration, AIDS, and pediatric cancer made President Trump’s issues lists worthy of a united American government.

Although tackling heavily divisive topics such as socialism and abortion, he omitted a class of 43.5 million unpaid caregivers.

The National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP shared that 43.5 million people in the United States have provided unpaid care to an adult or child in the last 12 months. While those numbers remain staggering, untold numbers don’t consider themselves caregivers yet indeed care for people suffering from trauma or mental illness or addicted to drugs or alcohol. Despite the opioid crisis dominating headlines for the last several years, the caregivers of those legitimately or illegitimately taking opioids remained overlooked.

As family caregivers, this massive group of unpaid great American workers provide an economic value of nearly $500 billion of labor each year. That’s a number close to the annual trade deficit. America is bumping chests with China over numbers less than that amount, yet we’re not even mentioning this vast group or their labors in now three addresses to Congress.

While the divided mentality in Congress remains in full view during such events as the State of the Union, the issue of family caregivers should unite them all. Those individuals charged with our government will either one day be a caregiver — or one day need one.

The slow approach of this issue to many remains on the horizon of senior status. Despite that, spouses, siblings, partners, parents, and grandparents of those with special needs, disabilities, and chronic illness ranging from MS to addiction—even now occupy the halls of power in Washington.

Partisan issues serve as the low hanging fruit for those concerned about politics over progress. Yet disability, illness, and age respect no political party.

Rarely, however, does an issue affect so many while receiving so little attention. The needs of caregivers are vital. If the caregiver goes down physically, fiscally, or emotionally — the loss is felt by more than just the caregiver. It’s always at least a two-for-one deal.

Numerous boards regulate skilled care for patients with extreme needs. Yet vast numbers of family caregivers regularly administer drugs and perform medical tasks previously only performed by trained medical personnel. What happens when the caregiver makes a mistake, calls in sick, or becomes depressed and impaired in their day-to-day functions?

In the President’s State of the Union, a child with cancer, an officer recovering from gunshot wounds, and elderly veterans and survivors of war — all stood to thunderous applause from the entire American government.

Orbiting each of those individuals are unpaid, unrecognized, and most likely untrained family caregivers. How are they feeling? How are they holding up?

We should all applaud those who stand up to difficult challenges. Bearing the suffering and harsh needs of a vulnerable loved one is also a challenge worthy of applause and recognition. Yet affirmation without direction is as useless to caregivers as praise without treatment is to the chronically ill.

Caregivers require a clear path to healthiness for themselves. Should our public platforms fail to effectively address the weary army of those caring for the most vulnerable among us, the impact will be felt in families, schools, churches, the workforce, medical centers, rehab centers, and funeral homes.

Helping a caregiver first requires noticing a caregiver.

Just one paragraph in an address such as the State of the Union would help. Maybe next year, we can hear from that magnificent podium a message to all family caregivers such as the following:

“We see you. We see the magnitude of what you carry, and we hurt with you. As a nation, we purpose to address the needs of family caregivers through resources such as respite care, better access to mental health care for caregivers, and better access to primary care for family caregivers. We do this because, as a nation, we more clearly see that ‘Healthy caregivers …make better caregivers.”

Peter Rosenberger hosts a radio program for family caregivers broadcast weekly from Nashville, TN on more than 200 stations. He has served as a caregiver for his wife Gracie, who has lived with severe disabilities for more than 30 years. His new book, 7 Caregiver Landmines and How You Can Avoid Them released nationally Fall 2018. @hope4caregiver


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