A Week to Salute Those Who Also Serve; Sometimes the Heroes' Helpers Need Help, Too

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), March 6, 2013 | Go to article overview

A Week to Salute Those Who Also Serve; Sometimes the Heroes' Helpers Need Help, Too


Byline: Lynda C. Davis, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

His care was exceptional and his passing was peaceful. They respected him till the very end and continued to support me in my grief. When my father, an 85-year-old World War II veteran, died following two years of treatment for terminal cancer, my caregiving mother praised his Veterans Affairs hospital treatment and the support given her.

Sadly, her experience is seldom fully reflected in the testimony of the caregivers of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) veterans whose wounds, illness or injury are fresh and whose lives become forever changed at a much earlier age. As the 2011 comments of a Marine mother make clear, theirs is a different story. [Traumatic brain injury] affects the whole family for a very long time, most likely a lifetime. ... I became Steven's primary caregiver, advocate, life skills coach, chauffeur, secretary, bookkeeper, teacher, drill instructor, medical assistant, physical-occupational-speech therapist and his mom. That blast changed the fabric of our family.

While many caregivers, military or civilian, are frequently responsible for the oversight and administration of all medical, mental and daily living functions for service members, a 2010 survey by the National Alliance for Caregiving found that veterans have different caregiving needs when compared with their civilian peers: They are younger (18-54), their service-related condition is a longer-term endeavor, and they have higher requirements for activities of daily living that may last well beyond their caregiver's lifetime.

Caregivers of veterans also report a greater impact of caregiving on their lives than caregivers in general, and those caregivers whose veterans have traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder or depression or anxiety are more likely to have their health impacted by emotional stress and feelings of isolation. Some have even been recognized as suffering from secondary post-traumatic stress disorder by the Department of Veterans Affairs owing to their exposure to the trauma the veteran endured.

During one 10-month period of her husband's hospitalization at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Elizabeth Dole spent time talking to, comforting and learning from these wounded warriors, their parents and spouses as they began their life-changing journey. Mrs. Dole, having had the privilege, as she so aptly says, of serving from time to time as a caregiver to her husband, Robert, was struck by the immense obstacles these family members faced, and she saw an urgent need for better support. As she heard from the young wife of an Army soldier who now suffers from traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder and degenerative issues, My days, hours and minutes are seldom mine . …

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A Week to Salute Those Who Also Serve; Sometimes the Heroes' Helpers Need Help, Too
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