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Susan Graham

Becoming a military caregiver is a traumatic, life-altering event. You have to maintain a piece of yourself and some outside interests and contacts. There may come a day when you will no longer be a caregiver, and if you lose yourself in the role, it will be very difficult for you to come back.

What does being a military or veteran caregiver mean to you?

My husband is the love of my life, and his loss of eyesight and medical problems does not change that. Being a military caregiver means providing for his needs, keeping him safe, monitoring his health, advocating for his health needs and providing the best quality of life possible for him – not to mention keeping his spirits up all while nurturing a husband/wife relationship.

What is one piece of advice you would offer to other military and veteran caregivers?

Becoming a military caregiver is a traumatic life altering event. Don’t be afraid to seek help from counselors to sort through all the emotions you will be going through. You have to maintain a piece of yourself, and some outside interests and contacts. There may come a day when you will no longer be a caregiver, and if you lose yourself in the role, it will be very difficult for you to come back; you must maintain some essence of who you are.

How has your life changed since you became a caregiver? What sacrifices have you had to make?

Arnie and I had only been married 3 years 8 months when he lost his eyesight. He lost his independence, I lost my independence. He lost his hobbies, I lost my hobbies. He lost his friends, I lost my friends. He lost his way of life, I lost my way of life. We have both had to start our lives over and adjust to a new “normal.”

My Story

Susan met her husband Arnie, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who served in Vietnam, at her mother’s senior living facility in Richmond, Virginia. After getting to know each other casually around the facility, they began dating in 2013 after Arnie’s first wife, Ruth, passed away. 

Arnie had served in the Marines for 23 years, first as a private and working his way up to Major. After returning from his second tour in Vietnam, where he was exposed to Agent Orange, Arnie began experiencing retinal tears and underwent numerous surgeries on both eyes, ultimately ending in almost total loss of sight in 2018. Exposure to Agent Orange also caused prostate cancer and coronary artery disease, and his wartime experiences led to hearing loss and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  

When Arnie lost his eyesight, he lost his independence, hobbies, friends, and self-esteem. Susan also lost her independence, hobbies, and friends since she was now a full-time caregiver for Arnie. Together, they have had to rebuild their lives and adjust to a new normal with the help of special training and transitioning programs. It has only been possible with a lot of counseling, perseverance, determination, and love.  

Susan guides Arnie wherever they go, monitors his diet and medications, advocates for his mental and physical healthcare, drives him to all his appointments, meets with his doctors, manages all household chores, and handles all of Arnie’s finances. Susan has to remain diligent at all times to keep Arnie safe since he cannot recognize the dangers around him.     

Despite Arnie’s inability to live independently, Susan feels that some organizations don’t consider blindness a disability because of the rehab blind people receive. Susan hopes to advocate for caregivers in the VA system to help them receive their benefits. Before becoming Arnie’s caregiver, Susan had retired from Ernst & Young as a Certified Public Accountant. Susan had also attained the designations of Certified Financial Planner, Certified Fraud Examiner and Registered Investment Advisor and is a published author. Susan volunteers with AARP’s Tax-Aide, serves on the Prescott Planning and Zoning Commission, is Treasurer of their church, and serves on the Finance Committee for Habitat for Humanity. She also hopes to be able to help caregivers during tax season and assist them in achieving financial wellness.