Posts tagged " Caregiver "

“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 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.


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?


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,, and

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.




Soul Care Conversation (Military Family Dynamics: Transition and Community)

September 2nd, 2015 Posted by Blog No Comment yet

(The purpose of Soul Care Conversations 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!)

Last week we concluded our 8 week conversation on the unique components and histories of military culture. Of course our discussions were not exhaustive, however we now have a reference point for our future conversations around the challenges that a warrior and family experience. This week we will expand our conversation on military family dynamics. I hope that this topic will generate some dialogue among us.

I remember hearing a First Sergeant tell a new Soldier who has having family or marital problems, “if the Army wanted you to have a wife, they would have issued you one!” Do you recall that several weeks ago we shared that first and foremost, mission takes precedence? “Mission first, people always.” One of the outcomes of mission focus is that family concerns are always secondary. As such, the military’s responsiveness to family needs is in direct proportion to how the service sees these needs as they support the mission and the war fighter.

Understanding this helps put into context the unique culture of the military family and the implications on family dynamics. We will look at the following:

  • Transition is a way of life
  • Self contained community
  • Military brat
  • Resources and services available

For this week’s conversation, we will discuss transition challenges and the implications of the military being a self contained community.


We recently discussed a critical component of the military culture, constant transition.  When a service member receives orders for re-assignment, he or she has no choice, the service member moves. If the service member moves, most likely so does the family. However, there are times that the service member moves alone:

  • unaccompanied tour (re-assignment orders for a hazardous duty location)
  • spouse has employment in career field at current location
  • spouse or children have medical or academic requirements that limit places of residence

Family separation presents challenges for the service member, spouse and children. While stationed at Fort Bragg, NC, I was selected for senior service college at the Army War College in Carlisle, PA. Joel, our youngest son was entering his senior year in high school. In order to make an informed decision the family made the trip to Carlisle to check out the school and community. We visited the teachers, soccer coach, and school campus. After several months of prayer and deliberation, Joel decided he would prefer to graduate from the high school he started three years prior. So, I made the move to Carlisle and the family remained in North Carolina. This was not an easy year for any of us, however, Joel was able to complete his education with friends as well as play varsity soccer for his high school team.

Moving brings added stress to families. Military families understand unique challenges after each move:

  • find a new home
  • change schools
  • change doctors and dentists
  • spouse searches for new employment
  • securing a trusted child care provider
  • locating a hair fashion specialist or barber
  • leaving friends and finding a new support system

Perhaps this is the most important thing to remember in your relationships to military families, that they are in constant transition.  Military families face frequent moves, often without the financial help provided by corporate moves.  Frequent moves become a sacrifice.

Because of frequent moves, the military family readily builds new friendships.  For some in the civilian world, this may appear pushy.  But realize, connections are extremely important. Our family have life long friends from most of our locations where we lived.

Additionally, not only does the service member and family move frequently, but the upheaval in family life is compounded by the numerous deployments or time spent away in lengthy training. This creates adjustment challenges for the family. It seems that there is one constant, an absent spouse or parent. The requirements placed upon the stay-at-home spouse/parent:

  • providing emotional stability and security for the family
  • maintaining balance in home life
  • disciplining of the children
  • maintenance on the house or vehicle
  • shopping
  • attending school activities
  • “taxi driver” taking the children to appointments

This is not an easy task for the spouse.

Also, finding work and life balance for the service member is difficult. Work/life balance in the military is not a scale where hours are weighed and measured. Instead, work/life balance comes from family. We discovered early in our military service that what’s important is not the amount of time but the quality of time spent with family. The family is the foundation upon which the service member stands, constantly shifting to balance the demands of a military life. This is the reason why the Army in a campaign has projected the importance of family, “Army Families, Army Strong.”


Military communities are closed societies with loose boundaries between work and social life.  Many active duty military members live on a post or base, where they live, work, and play in a self contained community.  The military community has a great diversity of faith groups, races and regional cultures not experienced in most civilian communities.  Therefore, the importance of esprit de corps for the family is just as important as it is to the warrior.  The support the family receives from like-minded and situationed persons becomes valuable, especially during the service member deployments.

While the warrior is deployed, the family attempts to keep everything as normal as possible.  The spouse and children attend school functions, church, continue playing soccer, baseball, cheer, visit the grandparents, go shopping.  Normalcy is paramount for the family.

Often spouses may find it difficult to navigate the military systems in order to better integrate into the community or to find resources, so the help from other experienced spouses in a like situation  proves beneficial. For this reason, the military has implemented family support systems. In the Army, the FRG (Family Readiness Group) provides resources and support to the family, especially during deployments.

The self contained concept has its advantages as stated. However, this can cause isolation from other support mechanisms and relationships in the civilian community. The opportunities for the civilian community to develop and sustain relationships with military families can be challenging and rewarding.

At times when the warrior deploys, the family may decide to move “back home.” This can be both good or bad depending on the support the family may require if something happens to the warrior while in combat, or if there is a medical emergency for a family member.

Also, the Reserve and Guard families do not have the built in support mechanisms, or the distance to reach support systems are too far. This can prove problematic for the family, who possibly a week ago was a civilian family, but now because their spouse is deployed, are considered a military family with all of the challenges a deployment offers. Community support for the Reserve and Guard families is essential. This is where the faith community can have an impact.

This is a good place to ask you, how do you see knowing about military family dynamics will help you in initiating and developing a relationship with a service member’s spouse and children? Next week we will discuss the military brat and the services available to service member families. Is there anything else you desire to know? Until next week….

Memorial Day, A Misunderstood and Possibly Forgotten Observance?

May 21st, 2015 Posted by Blog No Comment yet

While we memorialize the lives of those killed in war, we must also remember the losses that war takes from our veterans who return home. Statistics do not reveal anything but numbers. However, when we personally know of a veteran (estimated 22 veterans commit suicide each day) who was haunted and overwhelmed by the spiritual and psychological pain of war, statistics become a person.