Heroes on the Homefront – Caregivers of Veterans

Veterans Parade dreamstime_xs_7119344 (2)On November 11 we celebrate our nation’s veterans. More than 10 million caregivers are providing care for a veteran. Read Sherri Snelling’s Examiner.com article about ways to volunteer to help veterans and their family caregivers.

November is National Caregiver Month

Atlas Caregiver MonthNovember and all year long we celebrate and honor the 65 million Americans who are caregivers.  Just like Atlas, the weight of the world is being carried on caregivers’ shoulders. Caregiving crosses all socio-economic boundaries — race, religion, age, gender, geographic location, income level – caregiving is a role most if not all of us will play in our lifetimes.  Read our new blogs all month on how caregivers can balance self-care while caregiving and revisit some of our past blogs about the different types of caregivers here:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Caregiving Children:

Caregiving’s Lost Generation: The Nation’s Children for Huffington Post

Caregiving Men:

Increase of men as caregivers for Forbes.com

Sandwich Generation Caregivers:

7 Ways the Sandwich Generation can beat burn-out for the Examiner.com

Mars vs. Venus On Caregiver Stress for Huffington Post

Sibling Caregiver:

The Sibling Caregiver for PBS Next Avenue

Caregivers of Veterans:

Caregivers caring for those with PTSD and TBI for Huffington Post

Working Caregivers:

Employers must do more to support working caregivers for Huffington Post

Caregivers of Parents:

Goldilocks Syndrome for Forbes.com

Caregiver Tipping Points for PBS Next Avenue

What’s Your Caregiving IQ? for PBS Next Avenue

How to Prepare for Disasters When Older Parents Live Far Away for the Examiner.com

Honoring Veterans & Their Caregivers November 11

Saluting Soldier dreamstime_m_7996079 (2)Every November 11 we commemorate Veteran’s Day – the brave men and women who protect our freedom and American way of life.  Our blogs feature the heroes on the homefront – the 10 million Americans who are caregivers of our nation’s veterans, of which 7 million are veterans themselves.  Read our blogs about the caregivers of veterans here:

 

 

 

Heroes on the Homefront – Veteran’s Caregivers for Examiner.com

Caregivers caring for those with PTSD and TBI for Huffington Post

Enlist now to help caregivers of veterans

Libby Hewes- A Veteran’s Caregiver Goes from Newlywed to Nurse for Caring.com

Rosalinda & Alain Babin – Boomer Parents Proud of Wounded Warrior Son for Caring.com

Boomer Parents Caring for a Veteran Son with TBI for PBS Next Avenue

PBS Next Avenue Articles

PBS Next Avenue together

Following are all of Sherri’s articles for PBS Next Avenue:

17 Essential Books for Caregivers

90-Year-Old Billionaire David Murdock Doles Out Advice

Are You a Caregiver or Just a Good Child? (Sherri Snelling quoted in article)

Caregiver Tipping Points

The Emmy Awards We’d Give – TV’s Best Caregivers (2012)

The Emmys We’d Award – TV’s Best Caregivers (2013)

Employers must do more to support working caregivers

Finding Affordable Home Care for Your Parents (Sherri Snelling quoted in article)

For Caregivers, New Tracking Technology Offers Peace of Mind

Healing Power of Pet Therapy

Help Your Parents Join the Aging in Place Revolution (Sherri Snelling quoted in article)

Holly Robinson Peete’s Most Challenging Role – Sandwich Generation Caregiver

How Online Volunteers Support Caregivers

How Strong is Your Living Will? (Sherri Snelling quoted in article)

How to Avoid the Goldilocks Syndrome

How to Care for Your Parent Without Losing Your Job (Sherri Snelling quoted in article)

How You Can Combat the Senior Hunger Crisis

Meet the Hall of Fame Caregiver Who Changed the NFL

New Report Highlights Stress of Long Distance Caregiving

The Osmond Family’s Greatest Act – Winning the Daily Battle Against MS

Patient Navigators – New Help for Caregivers

PBS Powerful Expose on Assisted Living (Sherri Snelling quoted in article)

Rise of Men as Caregivers

Rosalynn Carter – A Pioneering Caregiving Advocate Says More Must be Done

The Sibling Caregiver

Social Media Dangers for the Modern Caregiver

Suze Orman’s Lessons Learned on Long Term Care for Her Mom

A Victory for Alzheimer’s Patients and Caregivers (Sherri Snelling quoted in article)

The Village Movement – Redefining Aging in Place

What Lies Ahead for the Nation’s Caregivers?

What Obama’s Re-election Means for Caregivers

What Parents of Wounded Veterans Need

What’s Next in Caregiver Technology

What’s Your Caregiving IQ?

When Parents Face Driving Retirement – Alternative Senior Transportation

Where do the Candidates Stand on Caregiving?

Why Caregivers Need to Plan for the Worst – Emergency Preparedness

Why Laughter is Crucial for Caregivers

Why You Need to Make Your End-of-Life Wishes Known

 

Huffington Post Articles

Huffington-Post-Logo3Following are Sherri’s articles for Huffington Post:

8 Ways to Volunteer to Help America’s Largest Volunteer Health Care Work Force: Family Caregivers

An Essential Caregiving Fairy Tale: Sleeping Beauty

Caregiver RX for Stress: 3 Steps to Me Time Monday

Caregiving Conversation Between Your Heart and Your Head

Caregiving Goes to the Oscars (2013)

Caregiving’s Lost Generation: The Nation’s Children

Caring for Those Heroes with Invisible Wounds

Creating Company Culture that Cares About Caregivers

How to Manage the Sandwich Generation Juggling Act – 8 Childish Things Caregivers Should Do

Let the Caregiving Movement Begin with the Caregiver Bill of Rights

Mars vs. Venus On Caregiver Stress

Rizzoli & Isles Creator is on the Case

Caring.com Caregiver Profiles

Caring dot com

Following are the caregiver profiles Sherri has contributed to Caring.com:

Debi Cacace – Staying Connected With Her Father-in-Law Through Technology

Diane McGunigle on Women, Caregiving and Heart Health

Dr. Sally Brooks –A Doctor, A Daughter, A Caregiver

First Lady Rosalynn Carter – The Caregiving Pioneer

The Health Risks of Being “The Good Daughter

Libby Hewes- A Veteran’s Caregiver Goes from Newlywed to Nurse

Rosalinda & Alain Babin – Boomer Parents Proud of Wounded Warrior Son

Sara Ballantine – The Magic of Caring for Her Dad

Sarah Abbott and Kate Stukenberg – Blondes vs. Brunettes in the Fight for Alzheimer’s

The Working Caregiver – A Culture of Care at Work Makes All the Difference

 

Happy Birthday to a Caregiving Pioneer – Rosalynn Carter

Photo: The Carter Center

Photo: The Carter Center

She said it first and she said it best:  “There are only four kinds of people in the world:  those who have been caregivers, those who are currently caregivers, those who will be caregivers, and those who will need caregivers.”

As one of the pioneers behind a growing caregiving movement in this country, Mrs. Carter became the first public figure to truly champion the cause of those 65 million Americans today caring for loved ones who are older, chronically ill, disabled, have special needs or are challenged by mental illness.

I talked with former First Lady Rosalynn Carter about the strides made for caregivers over the last few decades and what her hope is for the future.  They also talked about her caregiving roles – providing comfort and care to multiple family members over the years.  As Mrs. Carter gets ready to celebrate her 86th birthday on August 18, Sherri asked her to share her wish list for caregivers in this country.

A Backwards Glance

“My work with caregiving grew out of my mental health work,” says Mrs. Carter. “I had seen so many families burdened with caregiving for those with mental health issues.  When we convened a meeting in the 1980s to discuss caregiving issues, it quickly spread from there.”  She had reached out to organizations such as the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association, the American Medical Association and other groups that could help both family caregivers and health care professionals.  Amazingly all these groups agreed that caregiving was critical to the health of the patient but no one had any focused caregiving programs.

That was then.  Over the last three decades, Mrs. Carter is encouraged by the public support for caregivers.  She points to essential government programs such as the National Family Caregiver Support Program, authorized as part of the Older Americans Act, and administered through the Administration on Aging, it provides grants to states to help caregivers keep loved ones at home as long as possible.  She also believes programs such as the Lifespan Respite Care Act are critical to helping caregivers with a huge issue identified back in those early 1980s meetings:  burn-out.  To avoid burn-out, caregivers today can find respite services, training and other information through the ARCH National Respite Network and Resource Center.

“Of course we always want more but it is wonderful to see how this issue [of caregiving] has become a major, major issue,” says Mrs. Carter.

She is also proud of the fact that the program she founded and which bears her name, the Rosalynn Carter Institute (RCI) for Caregiving at Georgia Southwestern State University is the “only university with a caregiving program.”  In talking with Dr. Leisa Easom, executive director of RCI, the Institute is focused on taking evidence-based research to understand caregiver needs and then translating that research into programs.  Since 1987, RCI has been a leading advocacy, education, research and service unit for caregivers at the university and beyond the campus.  Working with numerous national organizations and community-based services across the country, RCI recently launched a satellite program in Korea and will continue to expand its caregiving expertise and support internationally.

While Mrs. Carter is proud to have founded the first university-based caregiving program, she has only started.  Her hope is that the global aging crisis will encourage even more sectors, including government, academia and U.S. businesses, to understand the importance of focusing on the caregivers and the services and support they need.

Birthday Wishes for Caregivers

Mrs. Carter has several wishes for caregivers that she would like to see come true over the next several years.  They include caregiver education and support to deal with grief as well as guilt.  She feels coping with these twin demons can help caregivers on their path to self-care which is so critical for dealing with the overall long term care issues in this country.

“The first thing we focused on back in the 1980s was caring for the caregivers,” she recalls.  “I spoke at a caregiving event back then and audience members came up to me afterwards crying saying that this was the first time someone understood what they were going through.”  She also advises, “People don’t want to admit that they are caregivers, they feel it is just their responsibility to care for a mother or a grandmother,” says Mrs. Carter.  Beyond self-identifying as a caregiver she also believes, “They also have to recognize the need for help and be willing to receive help.”   She realizes this is easier said than done.  I asked her if she had identified herself as a caregiver through the years and she laughed, “No, I didn’t realize I was a caregiver until I got involved in this work.”

She also hopes for continued understanding and acceptance of those with mental health issues, with a move toward eliminating the stigma that surrounds these individuals and their family caregivers. While she believes there is more attention to issues such as bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s disease and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), we need to move beyond awareness to acceptance and she feels that we are not there yet.

The programs that support the participation that Dr. Easom and RCI had in Averting the Caregiving Crisis, a report issued this spring by several caregiving thought leader organizations that identifies six key caregiving strategies are also part of Mrs. Carter’s hope for the future of caregiving:  1) Educating the public; 2) Understanding needs through evidence-based research; 3) Translating that research into programs; 4) Leading policy change around long term care; 5) Investing in sustainability for programs; 6) Creating more leadership around caregiving through public and private partnerships.

Her passion and advocacy come from a personal place and a lifetime dedicated to understanding the challenges – emotional, physical and financial – that accompany caring for a loved one.  Rosalynn was only 12 years old when her father was diagnosed with terminal leukemia, a battle he lost just three months later.  As the eldest daughter, she helped care for her ailing father and after his death supported her mother by also caring for her younger siblings.  She took up caregiving again for several relatives with cancer after she left the White House.  She relates how all of President Carter’s siblings succumbed to cancer and he also lost his mother to breast cancer.  Rosalynn helped care for several of these in-laws and also cared for her mother for many years until she passed in 2000 at age 94.  In 2002, she was called to care again for her younger brother who had a stroke.  He was living all alone in Ohio so he moved closer to Rosalynn in Plains, Georgia, so she could care for him.

“I have seen firsthand why it is important for families to have places to go to for help – it is so crucial.”

As Mrs. Carter gets ready to blow out the candles on her birthday cake, she is looking forward to the fly-fishing vacation with former President Carter he has promised her.  On August 18th we celebrate a true caregiving champion and let us wish that the spotlight Mrs. Carter has put on caregivers never dims.  Happy Birthday Mrs. Carter!

Caring for Heroes with Invisible Wounds

Soldier Daughter LG dreamstime_m_17615125 (2)More than 10 million Americans care for a veteran.  While we celebrate all our veterans this month during National Military Appreciation Month – Sherri writes for Huffington Post 50 about the caregivers of veterans with PTSD, TBI and depression where  the stigma of mental health and brain-related disorders is forcing these caregivers into the shadows.  One organization, the Mental Health Association of New York City is putting the spotlight on caregivers and veterans at its June 6 gala event.

Heroes on the Homefront – the Caregivers of Veterans

Today is Veterans Day when we honor those who have served our country at home and abroad to ensure our freedom.  But it is not just our service men and women who make the sacrifices for freedom.  I would also like to honor the 10 million family caregivers of our nation’s veterans and the 7 million caregivers who are veterans themselves.

In a landmark study from the National Alliance for Caregiving and underwritten by UnitedHealth Foundation, it showed:

 

  • Veterans’ caregivers bear a higher burden than most, helping to manage emotional and physical conditions often for 10 years or longer.  In fact, compared to caregivers nationally, caregivers of veterans are twice as likely to be in their caregiving role for more than 10 years (30 percent vs. 15 percent).
  • Caregivers of veterans are overwhelmingly women (96 percent) who sacrifice their own health, work and family life.  These veteran’s caregivers have twice the levels of stress (88 percent) or depression (63 percent) than typical caregivers.
  • The study revealed many veterans’ caregivers are younger – spouses of those having served in Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF)/Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) but also revealed more baby boomer parents are caring for their injured adult children.  Many of these veterans are suffering with the following:  60 percent have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), 70 percent with mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety, and 29 percent with traumatic brain injury (TBI).

I recently had the privilege of speaking to two caregivers of veterans whose stories highlight the sacrifice and service which is the true hallmark of our military families.

From Newlywed to Nurse

Libby met her husband, Jim, in an online dating site for boomer and seniors.  She was in her late 50s and was thrilled to find the love of her life in this enigmatic, heroic man who was a Vietnam War veteran.  Their whirlwind romance led to marriage but Libby’s dreams of riding off into the sunset together were about to take a detour.  In Libby’s words, “Within 14 months I went from newlywed to nurse.”

Jim felt he had long suffered the consequences of the Agent Orange he had come into contact with in South Vietnam.  Recently, he had a complicated hernia operation and in addition to his rapid weight loss, he was eventually diagnosed with prostate cancer.  Linda began her long journey of caring for her ailing husband.

As days turned into weeks turned into months, Libby realized she was neglecting her own health and her emotional state was fragile.  She had stopped going to her gym class, stopped having lunch with girlfriends and ultimately she had to leave her job as head of a major company’s customer service department because Jim needed constant care.

Proud Parents Face a Retirement of Caregiving

Rosie and her husband Alain had both recently retired and were busy planning how they would be spending their golden years.  They had it all mapped out – a road trip in an RV Alain had his heart set on and participating in tandem bike races around the country.  Then the call came that would change everything.

Their 25-year-old son Alan Jr., known to family and friends as “Doc” was serving in Iraq. They received a call advising them their son had been shot in the abdomen while helping to keep a supply road open between Baghdad and Kuwait.  They were told he lay bleeding, slipping in and out of consciousness on the open battlefield for more than three hours before they finally extracted him, got him stabilized and put on a Medivac to Germany. Eventually he was transported to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.  When Rosie and Alain arrived at the hospital, their son had survived more than 30 surgeries but had suffered a stroke which left him with traumatic brain injury (TBI).  The doctors informed Rosie and Alain Doc would never regain his ability to walk, dress himself, bathe himself, have the ability to talk clearly, or be in any way independent.

After Rosie and Alain brought Doc home they needed to create a new normal.  The den in their family home was transformed into Doc’s room equipped with a special patient lift to easily get Doc from bed to wheelchair or the bath.  Every day, Rosie lovingly bathes her 25-year-old son – as she once did when he was only 25 months old. Rosie teared up when Doc proudly showed me his Purple Heart.  Whatever hopes and dreams she had for her son’s future are now captured in the pride she has in her son and his service to his country.

Epilogues of Inspiration

Libby told me she pulled herself out of the downward spiral of depression so common for caregivers. She found solace two ways:  by creating an online newsletter which has now become a Lotsa Helping Hands community to update family and friends about Jim’s progress in beating his cancer and in her progress in getting her life back.  She also took a terrific caregiver self-care education training course through the local VA office called Powerful Tools for Caregivers.

You might think Rosie and Alain’s plans for their retirement were destroyed but in reality they were just delayed.  “I decided we were going to go from the bedside to outside,” Rosie tells me.  This active, athletic family, including Doc, participates in events around the country at least once a month including the Disabled Sports USA activities which include adaptive surfing, river rafting, snorkeling and rock climbing.  They also attend the Challenge Aspen annual adaptive skiing event in Snowmass, Colorado.

Rosie started Help Our Wounded, a nonprofit organization that provides support and direct assistance for veteran’s families in need. The volunteer help are mentors who know how to navigate the VA and military benefits system – those caregivers who have been through the experience of caring for a veteran. In addition, she and Doc star in a public service announcement for the Wounded Warrior Project to show other veterans and their caregivers there can be hope and healing.

God bless our troops, our veterans and their family caregivers.  And, on this Veterans Day (and every day) – my thanks for your service, your courage, your sacrifices and your caring.

Note:  This week’s blog is dedicated to the veterans in my life – my step-father who is a Korean War Veteran and proud Navy man, my late grandfather who was an Army WWII veteran and my brother’s good friend, Major Tai Le, who was assigned to the Pentagon in the JAG office after his second tour in Iraq but who is back in Iraq on his third tour of duty. 

Enlist Now to Help Veterans and Their Caregivers

They serve and they sacrifice – all for our freedom.  This Memorial Day, we remember those brave men and women who have lost their lives in conflicts and wars to guarantee our American way of life.  But, I will also be thinking about the 23 million living veterans of wars ranging from WWII to Operation Enduring Freedom and their 10 million family caregivers.  According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, amazingly, seven million of these 10 million caregivers of veterans are veterans themselves. They deserve our thanks – and not just in lip service but in real service.

While we join our families and friends for the kick-off to the summer season this weekend – the BBQs, the pool parties, the store sales and blockbuster movies – I ask you to take time to talk to your family and friends about “enlisting” to help our veterans and their caregivers.  From Memorial Day until Veterans Day (November 11, 2012) – check out my 8 tips on how to support our veterans and their family caregivers.

To encourage your volunteerism, here are a few things you should know about these “bravehearts” – the caregivers of our veterans from a landmark study conducted by the National Alliance for Caregiving and underwritten by UnitedHealth Foundation:

  • Veterans’ caregivers bear a higher burden than most caregivers, helping to manage emotional and physical conditions often for 10 years or longer.  In fact, compared to caregivers nationally, caregivers of veterans are twice as likely to be in their caregiving role for more than 10 years (30 percent vs. 15 percent).
  • Caregivers of veterans are overwhelmingly women (96 percent) who sacrifice their own health, work and family life.  These veteran’s caregivers have twice the levels of stress (88 percent) or depression (63 percent) than typical caregivers.
  • The study revealed that many veterans’ caregivers are younger – spouses of those having served in Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) or Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) but also revealed that Baby Boomer parents are caring for their physically and emotionally injured adult children.  Sixty percent of these veterans are suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), 70 percent with mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety, and 29 percent with traumatic brain injury (TBI).

Enlist Now – 8 Ways To Help Caregivers of Veterans This Year

1. United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) – There are several opportunities to volunteer to support veterans and their caregivers through the federal government department dedicated to them.  In addition to donating time and money, there are organized Welcome Home Events happening at the local VA Medical Centers across the country, there is also President Obama’s United We Serve activities happening all summer long which include helping homeless veterans, becoming a volunteer driver to provide transportation to veterans and families to and from VA facilities and more.

2. Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) – dedicated to those who were injured since 9/11, WWP has an online community for its members to share stories and volunteer to help one another at My Care Crew.  If you know a caregiver of a wounded veteran you can start one of the free, private communities where volunteers can provide help and support or find an existing community and ask to join.

In addition, WWP has hosted numerous Caregiver Retreats where caregivers get a weekend away to relax, recharge and reconnect with other caregivers going through similar challenges, and they support a host of career training and employment opportunities for veterans and their spouses. Nominate a caregiver of a veteran or donate to support this wonderful respite break for a veteran’s caregiver.

WWP also has the Believe in Heroes™ campaign, a two-month long series of events from September 11 and November 11 where all Americans can show their support of veterans by hosting a Believe in Heroes party or supporting retailers and brands that support heroes or purchasing Believe in Heroes gear and apparel.

3. ReMIND – Stand Up for Heroes is the annual event held in November and coordinated by the Bob Woodruff Foundation to provide resources and support to injured service members, veterans and their families.  Donate to the cause or buy tickets to the event through the ReMIND Web site.

4. Joining Forces – this is an initiative to encourage institutions, businesses and individuals to do more to help military families that is championed by First Lady Michelle Obama and Jill Biden, wife of the Vice President. There are numerous ways to get involved including:

  • The YMCA, National Military Family Association and Sierra Club Foundation offered free summer camp to 7,000 military kids at camps in 35 states.
  • Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club will guarantee a job at a nearby store for military family members who have been transferred to another part of the country.
  • The U.S. Chamber of Commerce will hold 100 hiring fairs around the country to help 50,000 veterans and military spouses find jobs outside government.

5. National Military Family AssociationOperation Purple Healing Adventures is a family camp experience for Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) military families that has given hope and healing to more than 45,000 military children and teens since 2004.  You can become a camp counselor or donate funds for camp activities.

6. Project Sanctuary – this non-profit organization has a mission to provide therapeutic, curative, supportive and recreational activities to veterans, active military personnel, their spouses and children in a leisure environment and has been recognized by Joining Forces as one of the top 5 veterans and families non-profit organizations.

7. Fisher House – The Fisher House™ Foundation donates comfort homes, built on the grounds of major military and VA medical centers that are a home away from home for patients who are receiving long term care at major military hospitals and VA medical centers.  There is at least one Fisher House at every major military medical center to assist families in need.  The Fisher House program serves more than 17,000 families annually, and have made available over four million days of lodging to family members since the program originated in 1990.  You can donate to support the operations of Fisher Houses or volunteer as staff for a local Fisher House by visiting the web site.

8. Volunteer Match – If you are not sure where to start, go to this online site that can match you to various local veterans organizations and events.

God bless our troops, our veterans and their family caregivers.  And, on this Memorial Day (and every day) – thank you for your service, your courage and your sacrifices.

Note:  Today’s blog is dedicated to the veterans in my life – my step-father who is a Korean War Veteran and proud Navy man, my late grandfather who was an Army WWII veteran and my brother’s good friend, Major Tai Le, who has done two tours in Iraq and has returned to us in California where he is now at Camp Pendleton after being assigned to the Pentagon in the JAG office.

Helping our Heroes – Veterans and Their Caregivers

Photo credit: Beaniebeagel/Dreamstime.com

After 9/11 many people started wearing American flag lapel pins – it was a show of pride in our country and in our troops who would soon deploy to fight the war on terrorism.  While wearing a pin is a great symbol – there are other ways for us to show our support for our nation’s veterans and their family caregivers.

The Department of Veterans Affairs states that there are 23 million veterans of wars ranging from WWII to Operation Enduring Freedom.  Many of those veterans require care from a family member.   In fact, 10 million Americans are caring for their loved one who is a veteran and seven million caregivers are actually veterans themselves.

In a landmark study released last Veterans Day by the National Alliance for Caregiving and underwritten by UnitedHealth Foundation, it showed:

  • Veterans’ caregivers bear a higher burden than most, helping to manage emotional and physical conditions often for 10 years or longer.  In fact, compared to caregivers nationally, caregivers of veterans are twice as likely to be in their caregiving role for more than 10 years (30 percent vs. 15 percent).
  • Caregivers of veterans are overwhelmingly women (96 percent) who sacrifice their own health, work and family life.  These veterans’ caregivers have twice the levels of stress (88 percent) or depression (63 percent) than typical caregivers.
  • The study revealed that many veteran’s caregivers are younger – spouses of those having served in OIF/OEF but also revealed that Baby Boomer parents are caring for their injured adult children.  Many of these veterans are suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (60 percent), 70 percent with mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety, and 29 percent with traumatic brain injury (TBI).

Finding Help Online

For help with finding services to help the caregivers of veterans, there is a wonderful Web site which has over 11,000 resources.  It is called the National Resource Directory and is maintained by the Departments of Defense, Labor and Veterans Affairs.

In addition, a few months ago the VA launched a Caregiver Specific Web site (www.caregiver.va.gov) that includes an online caregiver tool box and connection to caregiver support coordinators in VA Medical Centers.  They also created a caregiver toll-free support line (1-855-260-3274).

Giving Back to Those Who Gave So Much

ReMIND – Stand Up for Heroes is the annual event coordinated by the Bob Woodruff Foundation and part of the ReMIND campaign to provide resources and support to injured service members, veterans and their families.  Held last night (November 10) in New York, you can check out photos of headliners Bruce Springsteen and Jon Stewart and donate to the cause through the ReMIND Web site.

Wounded Warrior Project – dedicated to those who were injured since 9/11, WWP has an online community for its members to share stories and volunteer to help one another at My Care Crew, they have hosted numerous Caregiver Retreats where caregivers get a weekend away to relax, recharge and reconnect with other caregivers going through similar challenges, and they support a host of career training and employment opportunities for veterans and their spouses.

You can help through the Believe in Heroes™ campaign that calls on Americans to recognize the enormous sacrifices made by our newest generation of veterans and to honor the service of these individuals between September 11 and November 11. The initiative challenges all Americans to show their support of veterans by hosting a Believe in Heroes party, supporting retailers and brands that support heroes or purchasing Believe in Heroes gear and apparel.

Joining Forces – this is a new initiative to encourage institutions, businesses and individuals to do more to help military families that is championed by First Lady Michelle Obama and wife of Vice President, Jill Biden. Here are some of the programs you can support:

  • The YMCA, National Military Family Association and Sierra Club Foundation offered free summer camp to 7,000 military kids at camps in 35 states.
  • Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club will guarantee a job at a nearby store for military family members who have been transferred to another part of the country.
  • The U.S. Chamber of Commerce will hold 100 hiring fairs around the country to help 50,000 veterans and military spouses find jobs outside government

National Military Family Association – Operation Purple Healing Adventures is a family camp experience for Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) military families.

Project Sanctuary – recently profiled in People magazine, this non-profit organization has a mission to provide therapeutic, curative, supportive and recreational activities to veterans, active military personnel, their spouses and children in a leisure environment.

God bless our troops, our veterans and their family caregivers.  And, on this Veterans Day (and every day) – thank you for your service, your courage, your sacrifices.

Note:  This week’s blog is dedicated to the veterans in my life – my step-father who is a Korean War Veteran and proud Navy man, my late grandfather who was an Army WWII veteran and my brother’s good friend, Major Tai Le, who has done two tours in Iraq and has returned to us in California where he is now at Camp Pendleton after being assigned to the Pentagon in the JAG office.

Heroes on the Homefront – Caregivers of Veterans

I slept and dreamed that life was beauty;  I woke and found that life was duty.

–Ellen Sturgis Hooper

Photo credit: Kevin Zimarik/Dreamstime.com

Today is Veterans Day when we honor those who have served our country at home and abroad to ensure our freedom.  But it is not just our service men and women who make the sacrifices for freedom.

I would also like to honor the 10 million family caregivers of our nation’s veterans and the seven million caregivers who are veterans themselves.

I recently had the privilege of speaking to two caregivers of veterans whose stories highlight the sacrifice and service which is the true hallmark of our military families.

From Newlywed to Nurse

Linda* met her husband, Joe*, in an online dating site for boomer and seniors.  She was in her late 50s and was thrilled to find the love of her life in this enigmatic, heroic man who was a Vietnam War veteran.  Their whirlwind romance led to marriage but Linda’s dreams of riding off into the sunset together were about to take a detour.  In Linda’s words, “Within 14 months I went from newlywed to nurse.”

Joe felt that he had long suffered the consequences of the Agent Orange that he had come into contact with in South Vietnam.  Recently, he had a complicated hernia operation and in addition to his rapid weight loss, he was eventually diagnosed with prostate cancer.  Linda began her long journey of caring for her ailing husband.

As days turned into weeks turned into months, Linda realized she was neglecting her own health and her emotional state was fragile.  She had stopped going to her gym class, stopped having lunch with girlfriends and ultimately she had to leave her job as head of a major company’s customer service department because Joe needed constant care.

Proud Parents Face a Retirement of Caregiving

Rosa* and her husband Louis* had both recently retired and were busy planning how they would be spending their “golden years.”  They had it all mapped out – a road trip in an RV that Louis had his eye on and participating in tandem bike races around the country.  Then the call came that would change everything.

Their son George, age 25, was serving in Iraq.  But instead of their weekly Skype chat, they received a call advising them that their son had been in a suicide bomb attack while on patrol.  He was being transported to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

When they arrived, they found their once vibrant, talkative son had suffered traumatic brain injury (TBI).  The doctors informed Rosa and Louis that George would never regain his ability to walk, dress himself, bathe himself, have the ability to talk clearly, or be in any way independent.

After Rosa and Louis brought George home they needed to create a new normal.  The den in their family home was transformed into George’s room equipped with a special patient lift to easily get George from bed to wheelchair or the bath.  Every day, Rosa lovingly bathes her 27-year-old son – as she once did when he was only 27 months old.

Rosa teared up when she showed me her son’s Purple Heart as George told me that it was George Washington on the medal, “George just like me” came through loud and clear in George’s enthusiastic voice.  Whatever hopes and dreams she had for her son’s future are now captured in the pride that she has in her son and his service to his country.

Epilogues of Inspiration

Linda told me she pulled herself out of the downward spiral of depression so common for caregivers. She found solace two ways:  by creating an online newsletter which has now become a Lotsa Helping Hands community to update family and friends about Joe’s progress in beating his cancer and in her progress in getting her life back.  She also took a terrific caregiver self-care education training course through the local VA office called Powerful Tools for Caregivers.

You might think that Rosa and Louis’s plans for their retirement were destroyed but in reality they were just delayed.  The wonderful resilience and inspiration of this family is exemplified by the fact that just a few months ago, they took the RV to Denver along with George and participated in their tandem bike race – with George in a specially designed “pull cart” behind their bike.

In a landmark study released last Veterans Day by the National Alliance for Caregiving and underwritten by UnitedHealth Foundation, it showed:

  • Veterans’ caregivers bear a higher burden than most, helping to manage emotional and physical conditions often for 10 years or longer.  In fact, compared to caregivers nationally, caregivers of veterans are twice as likely to be in their caregiving role for more than 10 years (30 percent vs. 15 percent).
  • Caregivers of veterans are overwhelmingly women (96 percent) who sacrifice their own health, work and family life.  These veteran’s caregivers have twice the levels of stress (88 percent) or depression (63 percent) than typical caregivers.
  • The study revealed that many veteran’s caregivers are younger – spouses of those having served in Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF)/Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) but also revealed that Baby Boomer parents are caring for their injured adult children.
  • Many of these veterans are suffering with the following:  60 percent have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), 70 percent with mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety, and 29 percent with traumatic brain injury (TBI).

Show How You Care for Our Veterans and Their Caregivers

Our veterans and their family caregivers deserve our thanks and our support.  Make a pledge to help a veteran and their caregiver in any way you can – through a donation, through volunteering, through a simple gesture like making a dinner or sitting with a wounded vet so their caregiver can get a break.

(See my companion article on supporting veterans and their caregivers here.)

God bless our troops, our veterans and their family caregivers.  And, on this Veterans Day (and every day) – my thanks for your service, your courage, your sacrifices and your caring.

Note:  This week’s blog is dedicated to the veterans in my life – my step-father who is a Korean War Veteran and proud Navy man, my late grandfather who was an Army WWII veteran and my brother’s good friend, Major Tai Le, who has done two tours in Iraq and has returned to us in California where he is now at Camp Pendelton after being assigned to the Pentagon in the JAG office.

*names changed for privacy reasons.