(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 – 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 – 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.