Never give up, and as hard as it may be, take care of yourself, because you cannot pour from an empty cup.
What is a quote that inspires you or keeps you motivated?
My mom (who has since passed away) used to always tell me this: If you want to see change you need to find an avenue to make it happen. I believe that the Elizabeth Dole Foundation is my avenue to promote the change I want to see.
How has your life changed since you became a caregiver? What sacrifices have you had to make?
Life is no longer spontaneous; everything has to be planned around appointments etc. Before we would just wake up and decide to go on a day trip somewhere, but that is not the case anymore. We take things day by day, and minute to minute because things are forever changing. At times I have sacrificed my health and well-being to make sure that Jim’s medical care was met; however, I have taken control of that for the better. Self-care is important!
What does being a military or veteran caregiver mean to you?
Being a caregiver means that I am here to support Jim in any way that he needs me to. He sacrificed so much to serve his country and now it is my turn to help him in any way that I can. Being his caregiver means I am his voice, because it is too stressful for him. It is a constant flow of the unknown and it is forever changing, but honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Between 2008 and 2010, Tammy’s husband Jim deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan with only a month between deployments. Tammy, Jim, and their two daughters barely had time to reconnect and decompress from the first deployment before Jim left again.
While in Afghanistan, Jim fell from a vehicle and suffered a shoulder and back injury, a traumatic brain injury (TBI) and now deals with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). With these injuries, Tammy helps Jim get through every day. She manages his medication, coordinates his healthcare, and re-directs him when a stressful situation may trigger an outburst.
Before moving to Tennessee from Montana, Tammy wanted government leaders in Montana to understand how difficult it could be for a veteran to navigate the VA system, and much more so for a veteran who suffers from a brain injury and has no caregiver. She met with U.S. Senator Jon Tester, from Montana, who agreed to call the VA to schedule a basic appointment. The difficulties he experienced convinced Senator Tester that it should not be this challenging for veterans to receive care. Tammy hopes to be able to educate leaders in Tennessee the same way she did in Montana.
Tammy works full-time from home for a health care company as a credentialing coordinator and is planning to complete her degree in Healthcare Administration. While balancing work and being a caregiver, Tammy has realized the importance of taking time for herself and taking control of her life. Even if she has to wake up at 3:00 a.m., she takes time for herself with exercise before the rest of the day starts. By allowing herself some time to focus on her needs, Tammy was able to lose over 100 pounds.
In addition to reminding caregivers about the importance of self-care and being able to recognize the signs of caregiver burnout, Tammy would also like to find a way to educate veterans and caregivers about how to support themselves financially and to create a budget. She also hopes to connect with the pre-9/11 caregivers and veterans in her community to advocate for their specific needs.