When I can provide the contacts to the resources that caregiver needs, or solve a problem, I feel empowered.
What does being a military caregiver mean to you?
Being a military caregiver means providing the best advocacy, support, and love to my husband that I can. He served, we knew the risks. I supported him then, and I continue to support what came from that choice to serve. He is, and always will be, an amazing leader and soldier to me.
How has your life changed since you became a caregiver? What sacrifices have you had to make?
Since my husband was injured, I’ve had to give up my career as the director of a non profit and adjunct professor. We’ve also started to homeschool our children so that making VA appointments wouldn’t conflict with traditional schooling. My day has become a combination of household, teaching, and nursing chores. While it is with love I provide in this manner, my life and time are often not my own.
At what moment did you realize you were a military caregiver?
I realized I was a caregiver when we sat in Critical Care Unit, my husband unconscious, and everyone looked to me for everything, every answer, every choice. I think the day I realized I would stay a military caregiver was the day the doctors permanently removed him from work due to his injuries. It seemed so final—it still does. There is no going back.
Caira Benson of Patrick Air Force Base, Florida is a caregiver to her husband Eric. As his caregiver, Caira worked tirelessly to ensure that the Army and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) provided Eric the diagnosis and treatment he needed. She learned that she needed to become a strong advocate for her husband and her family.
Eric deployed twice to Iraq between 2003 and 2007 as a combat engineer. From blast exposures, chemical exposure, and a parachute malfunction, he suffers from traumatic brain injury (TBI), degenerative neurological issues, degenerative back issues, and nerve issues that leave him significantly mobility impaired. It took almost 13 years for the VA to understand Eric’s case. During this period of time, Caira did not have the support she needed to care for her husband, which led to emotional, financial, and physical struggles.
Caira gave up her full-time career as non profit director and adjunct college professor to care for her husband and their five children. Caira helps Eric with activities of daily living and exercise, and manages communications with health care providers. She also home schools their children, one of whom is disabled and another with severe dietary allergies.
Caira serves on the board of a small organization that provides weighted blankets to children with special needs. She also volunteers at her church, and for a veteran organization that helps with service dogs. Despite their challenges, Caira enjoys being able to create opportunities for her family to travel and have new experiences together.
As a Dole fellow, Caira hopes to enlighten others about the realities of being a caregiver with young children and the challenges facing the families of wounded warriors.