Isolation was a huge challenge. I spent most of my time caring for my brother, and little time caring for myself. Friendships, hobbies, and interests all fell to the wayside.
What was one of the first major challenges you faced as a military caregiver? How did you address that challenge?
Maintaining employment was a huge challenge for me. For many years, I was only able to work part-time. As a non-spouse caregiver, I was not prepared for the financial consequences created by this role. Saving for my retirement, paying into social security, and building savings or my personal credit all took a backseat to caregiving.
How has being a military caregiver changed you?
I have a huge appreciation now for the small things in life, and I find it much easier to let little things go that used to bother me. I’m very humbled to have a brother who has tremendous internal strength and a sweet character. He would take care of me in a heartbeat. Caregiving is my life’s greatest work, and I would make the decision to do it all over again, no questions asked.
What advice do you wish you had when you first became a military caregiver?
Know that it is okay, in fact recommended, to reach out and ask for help. Caregivers and warriors are often reluctant to ask for help. We just want to feel normal again. We want friends and neighbors to treat us the same as everyone else. The last thing we want to do is show weakness or ask for help. However, seeking help was one of the most significant moves we made in our recovery as a family.
I care for my brother, Retired Army Specialist James Smith, who was wounded by an IED blast during combat operations in Iraq. His list of impairments includes Traumatic Brain Injury, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, elbow replacement, hearing and vision loss, migraines and other complications. These combined ailments can make providing care challenging, however, I have learned a lot through experience. From my start as a Fellow and now as a spokeswoman for Wounded Warrior Project, I have become a passionate advocate for those who dedicate their lives to caring for our wounded veterans and service members. I am also the proud mother of a United States Marine.
As a Dole Fellow, I am committed to educating the public about caregiving siblings. As parents age, siblings will be the ones to fill this role.