A new initiative to train and support military caregivers is in the works, thanks to a new Blue Star Families program funded by a $750,000 grant from United Health Foundation.

To enhance the pilot program development, experts gathered at a forum on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on February 3, to discuss caregiver challenges, policies, research and opportunities. U.S. Senator Richard Burr and Congressmen Scott Peters and Sanford Bishop joined military and veteran experts and caregivers to discuss unique military caregiver challenges and opportunities to enhance the program's development. In addition, Tom Wiffler, chief operating officer of UnitedHealthcare Military & Veterans, joined Kathy Roth-Douquet, CEO, Blue Star Families, to announce the grant and partnership.

The Blue Star Cares: Military Caregiver Online Interactive Program aims to increase caregiver knowledge, skills, and confidence related to caring for wounded warriors, enhance their social support networks through a continuum of care, and improve caregiver quality of life through new online training and interactive resources. The training platform will use avatar technology to create computer-based simulations and care scenarios to help caregivers problem-solve and address real-life challenges to care.

"There are about 5.5 million military caregivers in the United States, and the emotional and physical impact of caregiving can be extraordinary," said Noeleen Tillman, executive director for Blue Star Families. "Through the support of United Health Foundation, this new program will provide caregivers valuable resources and training to help improve their own quality of life and the care they are providing to our wounded warriors."

"Military caregivers make tremendous sacrifices every day, and their continued well-being is vital to promoting healthier families and our military readiness," said Tom Wiffler. "This grant will further enable the vital work of Blue Star Families and create new, technology-driven training and resources to improve the health and well-being of caregivers and their loved ones."

"There are many military caregivers that don't identify as caregivers when they're not in the hospital or have unseen injuries such as traumatic brain injuries, which can be isolating," said Callie Barr, Marine Corps spouse and caregiver. "We need to recognize these caregivers and help them feel supported and understood. This Blue Star Families initiative is a huge step in the right direction."

Over the next three years, this new program will be piloted and tested with the goal of making the avatar training program and evidence-based toolkit available to military caregivers in the United States and stationed around the world.

UnitedHealth Group
Congressman Sanford Bishop, Jr. (GA-2) talks to military caregivers during a Capitol Hill forum that highlighted unique military caregiver challenges. L to R: Sherrie Wilcox, Ph.D., CHES, caregiver and senior research advisor at BSF; Marine spouse and caregiver Callie Barr, BSF Operation Family Caregiver Program; Congressman Bishop; and Tom Wiffler, chief operating officer of UnitedHealthcare Military & Veterans (PHOTO: Barbara Salisbury).
UnitedHealth Group
Kathy Roth-Douquet (speaking), CEO of Blue Star Families discusses a new initiative by United Health Foundation and Blue Star Families during a forum on caregiver challenges and opportunities to train and support military caregivers. United Health Foundation announced a $750,000 grant to support the initiative. L to R: Lynda Davis, caregiver and executive director, Military Veterans Caregiver Network; Megan Bunce, caregiver and director of community affairs, America's Warrior Project; caregiver Callie Barr, BSF Operation Family Caregiver Program; Kathy Roth-Douquet, BSF. (PHOTO: Barbara Salisbury)