Hope, compassion and dignity go a long way.
How has your life changed since you became a caregiver? What sacrifices have you had to make?
I completely changed every aspect of my life. I uprooted from an academic life in Florida and moved to California. My career has changed from academic research at the University of Miami to a life of caregiving; averaging three doctor visits a week, cooking, cleaning, and running a self-employed business.
What are the most significant lessons you have learned from being a caregiver?
Selflessness. Cooking, cleaning, medical documentation, and other activities require time and are essential to daily life, but it is even more important to provide comfort, dignity, listening, understanding, and hope for a veteran who has lost it from years of neglect, deteriorating health, and constant frustration. The mentality of veterans wanting to be more active and independent, yet inhibited by disabilities requires selflessness.
What advice would you offer to other military and veteran caregivers?
Hope, compassion, and dignity go a long way. Positive energy and spirituality are essential. Navigating the V.A. can be frustrating but patience, perseverance, optimism, and support will carry you through. Never be afraid to ask for help!
In 2012, Alex's father, Jeff Burum, United States Air Force, Retired Major, and disabled veteran, discovered his Desert Storm service did not end after being deployed to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in 1993. Years after his deployment, he began battling the effects of the Southwest Asia Theater of War’s toxic environment in the form of Gulf War Illness--an invisible enemy consisting of chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, traumatic brain injury, autoimmune dysfunction, spondylosis, adrenal insufficiency, and irritable bowel syndrome to name a few, which had devastating medical, personal, and financial effects on his life. With the assistance of the Palo Alto War Related Illness Center, the Holtorf Medical Center, and other private doctors, as well as a network of caregivers and other disabled veterans, Alex and Jeff are making progress with his pain management and combating the negative effects this has on his life.
As a Dole Caregiver Fellow, Alex hopes to spread hope and awareness to the estimated 2.1 million people currently affected by Gulf War Illness, as well as those who will be affected in the future.