By: Meg Swanson, military caregiver from Connecticut
Is there anything more thrilling than getting a notification on social media that a friend has tagged you in something? Not in this day and age; in today’s technologically enhanced world tagging someone is how we let each other know we’re thinking of them. So, when my phone buzzed in my back pocket that early summer day, I was so excited. What I read was beyond anything I could have hoped for, “Loved so much how Ryan Phillippe was touched by Megan’s story and kept referring to it.” That was the day Ryan Phillippe, Senator Elizabeth Dole, and other incredible people I have the great fortune to call my family testified before Congress on the rights of military and veteran caregivers.
Later that afternoon I watched on YouTube as the actor – that I had met months prior for an interview as he joined the ranks of Hidden Hero Ambassador – gave his recollection of my story as my husband’s caregiver. His testimony was short, to the point, and very effective; and it was with tears in my eyes that I finally began to own the title of Caregiver.
Being a caregiver is not something I ever really believed I was. I was just doing what a good girlfriend, then a good wife would do. Sure, I had extra things to do because my husband was a disabled veteran, but caregiver? No, never. There were days I would get off the phone with the Department of Veterans Affairs after another dead-end conversation thinking, this is what good partners do for each other. Trying to convince myself that everyone fought with doctors almost daily on their spouse’s behalf but knowing that wasn’t the case.
When I would talk with my friends and family about things that were happening at home with my husband, they would look at me with disbelief and say things like, “But he looks fine.” “Why is he on disability? He’s not in a wheelchair.” They had never heard of invisible injuries such as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), and when I explained what they were they would get confused and defensive. I eventually stopped talking about his injuries all together.
Until I found out there were other caregivers out there, just like me. Whose veterans came home injured – some injuries you could see and some you couldn’t – and needed extra help. The main thing we all have in common is that none of us believe we are caregivers. We are wives and mothers, fathers and sons, and we are just doing what needs to be done for who we love.
Now, though, thanks to programs like Wounded Warrior Project and the Elizabeth Dole Foundation caregivers like me have a voice, and it’s getting stronger. We stand for our veterans always, but now we stand together. We, the hidden heroes of the military, are stronger for having each other, and because we have each other we are stronger for the ones who really need us. Our veterans.