We are thrown into this life. All of a sudden you are a caregiver, and you don’t know what that means.
At what moment did you realize you were a military caregiver?
My husband was in the service for 18 years. He did three tours of Iraq. After the third tour he started having problems with memory and anxiety. He had severe problems at work and was medically retired after discovering he had a traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post traumatic brain injury (PTSD). While I had been caregiving for almost 10 years, I really knew I was a military caregiver when he got his ratings back from the VA: 100 percent disabled across the board. It gave me validation for a lot of struggles we had all along.
What does being a military caregiver mean to you?
It’s an honor to give back and make sure my husband can still find validation and purpose. It’s a struggle, but we’re getting there. Back when I was an active duty spouse, I would mentor younger spouses. I shared with them that caregiving is just like being a military spouse; we are thrown into this life. All of a sudden you are a caregiver, and you don’t know what that means.
How has being a military caregiver changed you?
I’ve learned that I can’t give up because my spouse is worth it. He would be worth it even if he wasn’t my spouse, because he’d still need a caregiver. It was quite difficult at the beginning. We had to seek counseling. I’m glad we did it, I could have just said, “I’m done with this.” No one understands him like me and vice versa. I’m the best suited for the job.
When Melanie's husband Joe returned from Iraq in 2003, she couldn’t fully comprehend why he was different. In time, she would learn that the circumstances of his long Army service, with multiple combat tours and blast exposures, resulted in PTSD and other health concerns such as insomnia, nightmares, and physical pain. In 2013, Joe was medically retired. While his combat experiences forever changed him and their family, Melanie and Joe are determined to stay the course. She has a degree in Education and has been engaged with the military community as an educator for over 15 years.
In her Dole Caregiver Fellow role, Melanie advocates for more resources and helps her fellow caregivers and their families rediscover their strengths and rekindle their hopes.