Life is hard. You can do it. I’m learning to be my own best friend. I know (advocating) on behalf of my veteran is right so I do not let barriers stop me.
At what moment did you realize you were a Military caregiver?
There was no “moment.” It was a process. Vietnam veterans were not treated very well by this country upon their return. Because of this, any help from the VA was given with complete disregard for the vet. The word “caregiver” was never used, nor did I even think about the possibility that I might be one. When Randy finally went into outpatient rehab, I began to hear the word and realized that is what I am.
How has life changed since you became a caregiver? What sacrifices have you had to make?
I only had an idea and hope for what my life would look like in 1970. My life has changed so much over 45 years. The biggest changes have been being unable to work full-time, putting off my education, not being able to use it as much as I would like, the isolation, and the financial stress.
Can you describe a milestone or a moment that made you feel empowered or inspired as a caregiver?
After many years of rehab and counseling for Randy, he called me one day and told me he had made a decision on his own and it was the right one. With his cognitive problems related to decision-making, thinking something through and coming up with the right answer has always been a big deficit due to the TBI.
I married Randy in 1970 despite his serious injuries from serving in Vietnam. Randy was a strong Marine. He was young and very bright. A that time, the only noticeable injury was the loss of his left eye. Randy held at least seven jobs with large companies. However, he would only last two years. I began to realize something was off. After many years of advocating for him at the VA, he was diagnosed with cognitive deficits from a traumatic brain injury. The next years were the worst. We had two girls and I had to play the role of both parents. I ran the house and was in charge of three lives. After fifteen years, I hit a wall. After two emotional episodes, I realized I needed to put myself first. I earned my Master’s Degree in Counseling at age 50 and opened a private practice. Randy now lives in the new State of Oregon Veterans home. He loves where he lives, and I am now able to pursue my interests.
As a Dole Caregiver Fellow, I hope to leverage my many years of experience and education in counseling to educate, mentor, and teach other caregivers while learning about myself in the process. I want to be that person that caregivers can count on to listen and help when possible. I hope to encourage caregivers to practice self-care and take time for themselves. And finally, I hope to help other caregivers with navigating the system to get the help that they might need and improve state and national laws to benefit caregivers and veterans.