By Dole Caregiver Fellow Kristi Williams Dumas
My role as a military caregiver is one that emerged over time. My husband, Hal, is a veteran of the Iraq War. He experienced and witnessed the worst of combat, particularly during one terrible ambush that left many of his battle buddies with catastrophic injuries. Following Hal’s return home, the signs and symptoms of post traumatic stress began to show. In our struggle to get him the treatment he needed, they grew worse.
When you care for a veteran with invisible wounds, your role as a caregiver is often invisible too. Friends and family do not see the time you spend as a source of emotional support for your loved one. Your co-workers don’t know when your veteran’s nightmares have kept you from getting enough sleep. At the grocery store, the store clerk can’t see the way you are watching for the early warning signs exhibited by your veteran that only you recognize.
Caregivers supporting veterans with physical injuries also can feel overlooked. Standing next to a veteran assisted by a wheelchair, cane, or service dog can drape you, the caregiver, in a cloak of invisibility. We love and admire our veterans more than anyone, and we are the first to say they deserve our nation’s thanks and support. However, please also remember the service, sacrifices and challenges of their caregivers.
Caregiving is a role we are willing to perform, but it can be isolating, lonely and terribly hard. Many of our nation’s military caregivers do not have a strong support system or even a single person who understands what they are going through. Even more alarming is the number of people caring for a service member or veteran who do not identify as military caregivers, nor do they realize that there are millions of others facing the same struggles.
October 10th is World Mental Health Day – in honor of this day, I urge all caregivers to reach out to organizations such as Give An Hour, PsychArmor Institute, and RCI‘s Operation Family Caregiver to obtain mental health support services for themselves too.