Elizabeth Dole Foundation
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Patricia Ochan

Being a military caregiver to me means being there for an injured service member, helping him with his most basic needs. Also, it is encouraging him to make progress, cheering him on with every little success that is made along the way.

At what moment did you realize you were a military caregiver?

I realized I was a military caregiver on September 11, 2013 when First Lady Michelle Obama visited the National Intrepid Center of Excellence (NICoE), in Fort Belvoir. She asked to meet with some spouses of the injured service members. She asked so many questions and listened while we spoke. At the end of the conversation, it was clear to me that my role had shifted and I was now a caregiver.

How has your life changed since you became a caregiver?

I had to give up my full-time career to become a full-time caregiver. It was tough in the beginning, but I decided to look at it as family time and actually enjoyed seeing my husband making progress, especially after his surgeries. My husband learned how to communicate better; he started opening up about a lot of stuff to me and I am so glad I was there to see him through the toughest times of our lives. I now see him smiling and it makes me so happy to know that he puts in his best effort to keep going. I decided to go back to graduate school and I encouraged my husband to enroll in school, as well. It was such a struggle, and it still is for him, but at least it makes him feel better knowing that he has help.

Can you describe a milestone or a moment that made you feel empowered or inspired as a caregiver?

The moment I was able to convince my husband to start school. He was extremely hesitant, so I had to remind him how young he was and how much life we have ahead of us despite all his health issues. I convinced him that anything he learned was good to help his brain. I told him that I would be with him all through school and that he had all the help he needed. The day we got a scholarship and he agreed to try school, I was so excited! I felt like my prayers had been answered.

My Story

Patricia gave up her full-time career to care for her Marine husband Jimmy, who deployed three times to Iraq and Afghanistan. Jimmy sustained injuries while in combat. As a result, he suffers from traumatic train injury (TBI), post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), migraines, lower back problems, and pain in both knees. Jimmy underwent several surgeries at Walter Reed Naval Hospital and Fort Belvoir Community Hospital. Patricia cared for Jimmy while in graduate school full-time. While her husband was receiving care at Fort Belvoir, she was very instrumental in creating the first-ever caregiver group at NiCoe, Fort Belvoir, to help find resources for all the other caregivers whose loved ones were injured in combat, and were trying to navigate the health system.

In her role as a Dole Caregiver Fellow, Patricia hopes to shed more light on the daily challenges faced by military families and caregivers, and will bring hope to military families that there is light at the end of the tunnel.