Monthly Archives: August, 2017

“Caregiver, a Personal Story,” by Sharon Cooney

August 28th, 2017 Posted by Blog 7 comments

As an ex-wife who met and married him after his last deployment to Southeast Asia, I lived the whole PTSD spectrum without any assistance. He refused any psychological treatment because it would have meant that he was “crazy”. I experienced the nights of fighting the battles again (and he was Air Force, flying KC135s and F4s); during these, I received slugs that resulted in bruises.

 

He was passed over for rank and got out of the military. Over the next 12 years he was employed in a variety positions – a few he “quit” and some from which he was fired. I supported him through these times but our relationship began to suffer. Communication between us was deteriorating. His verbal, emotional and psychological abuse continued and slowly escalated. And his alcohol intake slowly increased.

 

He began to blame me for everything in his life that went wrong and to accuse me of doing things that I did not do. I kept our sons involved in activities so that we were not home much. Being home was a delicate balance of walking on eggs, never knowing what would set him off. Something would cause a major blow up and then doing the exact opposite the next day also resulted in a major blow up. Many of these were directed at our youngest son; many times I would physically get between the two to prevent him harming the child.

 

Because I had been an independent woman prior to marriage, he never could control me. Over time he started to brainwash our youngest son to believe that I was the cause of all the family problems. This child became the other adult in his relationship, and not me.

 

I had no one in whom I could confide. I thought that people would think that I was making it up or maybe I was crazy. To maintain my sanity and sense of worth, I got involved volunteering in activities in which my boys participated. One day as I was teaching about substance abuse and posttraumatic stress to nursing students, I realized that I was living with a person who was abusing alcohol because of his PTSD from Viet Nam. About that same time, a student project about abuse opened my eyes to reality of my home life. I was not the problem.

 

I began to seek help for me and us. He continued to refuse treatment for PTSD, alcohol abuse, and our marriage. The marriage finally dissolved.

 

Once the divorce process started, it lasted just over 15 years – because he refused to comply to property division. But the divorce freed me to become a whole different person. I traveled, moved to the beach, became active in my nursing profession which lead to involvement with the student association, and most important, teaching nursing. My experience with him prepared me for helping students whose significant others threatened harm and who were in the process of divorce or breakup or dealing with substance abuse.

 

My support system gave me the strength to hold my head up and continue to fight for my sanity and safety. They included different groups of people from many areas in my community (church, neighbors, working colleagues, volunteer groups I belonged to, friends, and of course, my family). I learned that people who really cared listened without judgment, allowed me to cry, and just hugged me; I learned to identify those who did not want to “get involved” by the horror on their faces as I began my story. I distanced myself from those; I did not need their negativity.

 

At the time I was going through the “dark tunnel”, I wondered “Why me?” Now I can see that it was to allow me to be a support for my students and my friends when they needed someone who knew what to say and do. I mirror what helped me traverse the journey as I was going through it – I listen when they need to vent, hold them as they cry, and freely give hugs.

 

If you are in a similar journey,

  • You are a person of worth
  • Do not identify yourself with your situation
  • Hold your head up
  • Ascertain your support system – clergy, friends at church, neighbors, family, colleagues at work, whomever
  • Share your story with them
  • Tell your supporters what you need and let them do it for you
  • Seek help from your health care provider
  • Identify your happy place – where you get your strength and spend as much time there as you can
  • When you encounter negativity, avoid that person

 

The people that were my best support were

  • My parents who let me travel with them during my summer breaks from teaching
  • The ladies in my church circle – we had a spring and fall retreat to the beach over a number of years; I get my strength from time at the beach
  • My faculty and clinical area nursing colleagues and medical staff who asked how I was doing and listened when I had to vent
  • Church friends who willingly listened when I needed to talk and cry

 

I found my support system and used them for years. I spent as much time as I could at my happy place – the beach – until I moved there. Now I can go as much as I want every day and every time I find the peace and strength I need to continue moving forward. I no longer look back because I do not live there anymore.

Soul Care: Day of Learning, by Pat Litzinger

August 28th, 2017 Posted by Blog No Comment yet

United Methodist clergy and laity representing 18 different churches from Harbor District in the North Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church attended the SOUL CARE Day of Learning on August 5th at Harbor UMC in Wilmington, NC.  Facilitator and retired U.S. Army Chaplain (Col.) David Smith led the training which was focused on equipping churches to start or expand ministries which reach out to those in the military community (active duty and veterans).

Home to multiple major military installations, North Carolina has one of the highest concentrations of military veterans and active duty personnel in the United States.  After Harbor District’s Mission Strategy Team identified “Care and Support to Military Veterans and Active Duty’ as one of the district’s 12 most critical missional needs, the churches of Harbor District (located across a 9 county area of southeastern North Carolina) are interested in what they can do to more effectively reach out to this large demographic.

The August 5th Day of Learning included training from Chaplain Smith on topics such as:

  • Understanding military culture
  • Challenges that military members and their families face
  • Reaching out/building relationships with vets/active duty
  • Spiritual care needs of vets/active duty
  • The role that churches can play related to spiritual recovery

A working lunch round table session was also conducted which featured a panel of representatives from multiple local organizations which serve the military community in the Harbor District.   Attendees were able to receive helpful information from these organizations including the volunteer opportunities with which their church members can plug into/connect.  Panel members also answered questions regarding their organization’s specific mission focus and services.

Following lunch Chaplain Smith highlighted a number of best practices including a SOUL CARE ministry at one of Harbor District’s churches – Faith Harbor United Methodist Church.   Arness Krause, Faith Harbor United Methodist Church’s Soul Care ministry coordinator, was on hand to share how the church got started with their SOUL CARE ministry and what it looks like today.  She also shared some tips/lessons learned with the group.

Based on post event comments from attendees, they left the training inspired and equipped with helpful information and resources.  Follow on work in the district will be led by Harbor District’s Military Community Outreach Advisory Team (MCOAT).   MCOAT’s mission is to equip and inspire churches in the Harbor District to share the love of Christ with military veterans and members through outreach, prayer, relationship building and acts of kindness and gratitude.

Soul Care Conversation (Caregiver)

August 24th, 2017 Posted by Blog No Comment yet

(The purpose of Soul Care Conversation is to create a place to generate dialogue, initiate thoughtful consideration for the challenges our veterans face each day, share ideas of veteran and family well-being and healing, and spark within all of us a call to be engaged with the veteran and caregiver community. Click here to visit the forum and join the conversation!)

In previous conversations we have explored the challenges of the veteran returning from war. We determined that the effects of trauma and moral injury on the warrior’s bodies, minds, and spirits, are profound. We understand that the transition from warrior to civilian can be overwhelming. These may appear as insurmountable obstacles.

Beyond the most telling hardships on our returning warriors, the transition home from combat effects the family as well. All of these factors are compounded when the returning veteran has been wounded, whether physically, psychologically, or spiritually.

BACKGROUND

Because of a trauma experience, many of our returning warriors have lingering fear. Some struggle with a moral injury resulting in guilt or shame from ethical and moral challenges that they faced. Some a soul wound so deep that they feel broken and hopeless. Often, it is a family member or friend who becomes the caregiver.

In our conversation this month, we will explore the numerous challenges the caregiver faces. We will discuss in some detail the following:

  • reintegration
  • injury
  • support

Reintegration – is characterized by the veteran’s returning to his or her daily life as experienced prior to deployment. Despite much literature suggesting that the reintegration stage lasts several months, this stage can actually persist for months to years depending on the individual veteran, his or her family, and the fuller context of the service member’s life.

Reintegration can be a turbulent time for the family, as members must re-form into a functioning team. The re-deployment “honeymoon” may last 4-9 months, and then relationship stress and negative family functions usually reach a peak. One of the greatest challenges for the family appears to be renegotiating family roles as the veteran encounters the often-unexpected difficulty of fitting into a home routine that has likely changed a great deal since his or her departure.

Typically, over the course of one or more deployments, the at-home parent and children assume new responsibilities. While the veteran was deployed the spouse took on many of the roles the warrior accomplished prior, such as paying bills, disciplining the children, repairing the car.  Now that the veteran has returned, the veteran may desire to take back the responsibilities. This can cause conflict.

Also, the family may have to find a “new normal.” Neither the returning warrior, spouse, nor children may be the same persons they were prior to the deployment. Because of the experience of war for the veteran and separation for the family members, each person may exhibit subtle changes at first, but drastic personality changes surface such as fear, loneliness, isolation, anger, pain, and depression follow.

Understanding the nature and patterns for reintegration challenges enables the veteran and family to have more control over their lives. This knowledge will enhance a good reintegration and also allow for the veteran and family to engage conflict well.

The challenges of reintegration are drastically compounded when the warrior has been wounded.

Injury – The Post 9/11 wars will have long term affects for decades due to the young age of our troopers. Of the over 50,000 serious wounds, a large percentage are brain or spinal injuries. The total excludes psychological injuries. U.S. veterans with serious mental health problems – 30% of U.S. troops develop serious mental health problems within 3 to 4 months of returning home.

The one aspect that these statistics do not reflect, those who experienced the wounding of the soul. Department of Defense nor the Veterans Administration have collected data on those warriors who have experienced spiritual or soul wounds.

Support – An additional statistic that we must address, the caregiver. There are 5.5 million caregivers who are family members or friends of a wounded veteran, 1.1 million from the Post 9/11 wars alone. These persons provide 24/7, 365 days a year care to their loved one. (Statistic from the Elizabeth Dole Foundation report.)

The duties of a caregiver to the veteran might include:

  • managing medications
  • helping to bath or dress
  • taking care of household chores, making meals, paying bills
  • providing transportation to medical appointments
  • being the emotional support system for the veteran

The strain associated with caring for a wounded veteran may result in stress for the caregiver. To provide for a wounded warrior proves to be both a huge physical and mental strain. In fact, the mental strain can be so demanding that the caregiver her/himself risk at becoming a casualty as well; tension, anxiety, worry, pressure, depression, and fatigue. Another factor often overlooked, in order for the family member to provide 24/7 care, the caregiver must stop working outside the home thus contributing to possibly an already difficult financial situation. This also effects the caregiver’s self-esteem and well-being.

The physical, financial and emotional consequences for the family caregiver can be overwhelming. Where can the caregiver find support?

IMPLICTIONS FOR THE FAITH COMMUNITY

Who provides them care? Who do caregivers turn to for support? The Dole Foundation discovered through a survey that over 90% of the caregivers turn to the faith community for support. (Statistic from the Elizabeth Dole Foundation.)

If a caregiver knocks on your door, how will you respond? In order for individuals to respond effectively, there are several key preliminary components to consider:

  • knowledge of military culture and military family dynamics
  • appreciate the challenges of transition from not only military to civilian life, but from the battlefield to the bedroom, and from the unit to community
  • understand the context of war
  • know what resources are available in your community for the veteran and family

Each of these components become the building blocks for the faith community to begin to build relationships with the veteran and caregiver. Now that you have been approached for your support and you have initiated developing a relationship, you can take the next step, determine the need.

It is important to realize that caregivers can be overwhelmed with their situation. Most often they will ask for:

  • someone to take their wounded veteran to medical appointments, or watch their children while they take them to the appointment
  • a person to do home or car repairs
  • mow the grass or shovel snow

However, there are two other services the caregiver will rarely seek help for:

  • respite
  • support

Respite – Most likely the caregiver will not even consider respite. The caregiver’s attention is on their loved one, not themselves. However, respite will provide long term benefits. Without respite, caregivers may face serious health and social risks as a result of stress. Respite provides the much needed temporary break from the exhausting challenges faced by the caregiver.

The faith community can prove supportive in this need. Train volunteers to provide care to wounded veterans, with the following skills:

  • give medications
  • listen without judgement
  • knowledge of CPR

Support – Caregivers do not take the time to reach out to others because they think they cannot find the time to be away from their loved one. However, social support becomes a critical component in caregiver care. Peer support groups have provided caregivers a great source of comfort knowing that they are not alone, that others share similar situations, and that there are resources available.

The faith community can extend hospitality by opening their facilities for a caregiver support group. However, the faith community must extend their hospitality beyond opening the facility. They could also consider the following:

  • provide a trained volunteer to be with the wounded veteran while the caregiver is at group, or offer a wounded veteran group meeting at the same time and location
  • offer child care during group meetings
  • if a pastoral counselor is on staff, have that person available as a resource

The faith community can truly be a place of grace where the wounded veteran and caregiver feel safe to share their feelings.

The faith community does not need to do this alone. Begin networking with resources on line such as https://milvetcaregivernetwork.org/, http://militaryoneclick.com/15-organizations-godsends-military-caregivers/, and https://www.elizabethdolefoundation.org/.

We have learned the wounds of war are contagious as they affect the warriors, their families, the caregiver, and the communities. Thank you for joining this important conversation as we explored the support and services our veterans and their families need in order not just to survive, but thrive in ways meaningful to them.