HIDDEN HEROES; Caregivers Do Heavy Duty on the Homefront

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), March 8, 2013 | Go to article overview
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HIDDEN HEROES; Caregivers Do Heavy Duty on the Homefront

Byline: Kristina Wong, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Jessica Allen has slept about six hours since Monday.

With tax season weighing upon her, the 34-year-old tax preparer home-schools her two young daughters while providing full-time care for her husband - a former soldier who lost both legs to a roadside bomb in Afghanistan in 2011.

As a report about military caregivers points out, she has little if any time for herself.

You feel like you're out in the middle of the ocean, and you feel like you're treading water. It's exhausting, I'm not going to lie, said Mrs. Allen, a resident of Clarksville, Tenn. But at the end of the day, no matter how tired I get, I just sit down and I'm just thankful he's here.

Hundreds of thousands of Americans face

similar challenges in caring for loved ones who have returned from war with mental and physical wounds, according to a report by the Rand Corp. of Santa Monica, Calif.

More than 275,000 caregivers work as many as 80 hours a week, providing full-time care for their wounded spouses, children or other relatives, and often toil in relative obscurity, says the report, titled Military Caregivers: Cornerstones of Support for our Nation's Wounded, Ill, and Injured Veterans. It was commissioned by the Elizabeth Dole Foundation.

But the real number of caregivers could be as high as 1.1 million, said Terri Tanielian, the report's lead researcher.

Despite that high number, the public is largely unaware of the challenges military caregivers face, Ms. Tanielian said.

Often you're dealing with multiple complex injuries - multiple physical injuries, mental and cognitive disabilities like traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder, she said. Unlike most civilian caregivers, most military caregivers live with those they are caring for, making their duties a 24/7 responsibility.

They're helping them eat, dress, bathe, and dealing with things like paralysis, vision loss, hearing loss, Ms. Tanielian said. They're also providing transportation, tending to the house, managing personal and legal affairs. And they're also navigating multiple and complex systems of health care.

The physical, mental and emotional toll can be staggering, if not crippling.

Military caregivers tend to have higher rates of health problems and disease, and greater health and emotional challenges of their own, the researcher said.

They put the health and well-being of the veteran that they're caring for before the health of their own, and do so to their own detriment, Ms. Tanielian said. If they are caring for their spouses, they are often also caring for children and sometimes their parents at the same time. It's an enormous burden.

Mrs. Allen said she makes sure to start each day with breakfast; otherwise, she would forget.

Her husband, retired Army Staff Sgt. Chaz Allen, 33, was injured in January 2011 when he stepped on a roadside bomb while on a patrol. He lost both legs above the knee and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Mrs. Allen has become the main income provider for her family and is responsible for teaching their daughters at home and driving them to dance lessons - all the while caring for her husband, who recently had a painful bout of shingles.

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