I'm A Caregiver -- Now What?
by Melissa Comeau
I had been filling my husband Stephen’s medication for months, sure I helped him up when he was stiff, did all the cooking, cleaning and shopping. I handled the finances and scheduled all of his doctors’ appointments. I drove him to and attended those doctor’s appointments with him. I called his benefit providers and replied to mail from the Department of Defense (DoD), Veterans Affairs (VA) and Social Security. I researched treatment options and new medications with the hope of finding treatments to ease his pain and help with his mental health. I kept him away from all of his triggers and became a master at reading his moods. I did all of this because I was his wife. In sickness and in health, which was not in our nontraditional wedding vows but I still feel it is an important part of marriage.
I no longer felt connected to other military wives. Something had changed and this dark stigma cloud followed me around. I was too scared to confide in another military wife about our challenges as I knew there would be no understanding. Those I chose to hint at our situation became stand offish as if our family was contagious. We were a painful reminder of what life after combat can be and we were cast aside. I remember feeling nervous about identifying my husband as part of the Wounded Warrior Battalion as if we were now damaged beyond the honor of being a military family.
I remember searching for support on the internet. I searched for military family support which brought me to readiness and deployment support, how to survive the next deployment. After already getting through the excruciating deployments and having my husband come home alive, I was no longer concerned with deployments or readiness. I wasn’t worried about keeping our son distracted with family programs. All the support I found was for situations I could no longer relate too. I was pretty sure my husband would never deploy again but I wasn’t ready for 2 words, Medical Retirement.
The Wounded Warrior Battalion did a wonderful job caring for my husband. There were case managers, recovery care coordinators, doctors, nurses, therapists etc. all with the goal of healing my husband. He spent his days trying to recover from his numerous combat injuries both visible and invisible. I supported him in every way I could. There were a lot of decisions to make and the need for a long term plan. I was afraid I would not be equipped to deal with all we were facing as a military family. After all he was getting out of the military and then we would no longer be a military family. Again, I looked for support for medically retired families and was brought to information about taxes and Tricare. This information was helpful in its own way but it wasn’t what I was looking for. To be honest I didn’t even know what I was looking for.
One day I was sitting outside of my husband’s hospital room. I was waiting for him to be finished when a nurse came out and asked me if I was Stephen’s caregiver? I quickly responded with “no my husband is young.” My vision of a caregiver was someone who takes care of an aging person. The nurse insisted that was not the definition of caregiver to which I replied “I am just his wife.” This gentle nurse then said I was probably both.
This would be the first time I heard this word as if it could identify me. I was uncomfortable with the word. I knew my husband would be uncomfortable with it as well. That night I searched with a new term, military caregiver. I stayed up for hours reading through information that validated I was not alone and there was a name for all that I was doing, caregiver.
From that day forward I knew where to look for the support I needed. I needed caregiver support. This new role which I reluctantly accepted was called caregiver. Once I knew I was a caregiver I could search out caregiver resources, support and my caregiver peers. My caregiver peers have made the most profound impact on my journey.
So what is a caregiver? Perhaps you are a caregiver and don’t even know it. In the simplest terms a caregiver is a person who helps an ill or disabled person. A caregiver can be young or old taking care of someone young or old. A caregiver can be a family member or friend or a paid employee. A caregiver does for someone what they cannot do for themselves. A caregiver can care for someone with mental or physical disabilities or even both. As a military and veteran caregiver there is one difference in that your care recipient served in the Armed Forces. A great tool to tell if you are a military or veteran caregiver is to take this quiz provided by the Military and Veteran Caregiver Network
Do you do things for someone who serves or served in the Armed Forces that he or she can’t do for themselves anymore?
Do you help someone who serves or served in the Armed Forces with stress, emotional issues, anger or depression?
Do you take someone who served in the Armed Forces to medical appointments or arrange any form of health care for them?
Do you sometimes, even often, feel alone or isolated in in your duties because no one around you does the same thing or seems to understand?
Do you feel you do the care responsibilities for someone who served in the Armed Forces because they are your spouse, son/daughter, friend, sibling or other family member?
If you answered YES to any of these questions you may be a military or veteran caregiver.
Now that you know if you are a caregiver please explore the caregiver school at PsychArmor Institute. They have courses for the start of your caregiving journey as well as deeper topics along the way. I have personally gained so much knowledge from these online courses. These informative and engaging courses can be accessed at: http://caregiver.psycharmor.org/. You can also reach out to their clinical support staff directly at 844-779-2427.
I know the word caregiver may feel foreign to you and your situation but identifying as a caregiver is the first step to finding the support you need. Today I am a proud veteran caregiver who hopes to help other caregivers find the support they need.