My husband was injured by an IED in Iraq in July of 2006. Since I work with Operation Homefront’s Hearts of Valor Program, I am able to work with caregivers of wounded, ill or injured service members every day. I have been asked more times than I can count, “what can we do for the caregivers of wounded warriors?”
Caregivers certainly have a lot on their plate while trying to juggle surgeries, kids, household chores and hold down jobs. We most certainly could use a helping hand.
Practical Ways to Help the Spouse of a Wounded Warrior
1. Did you know that many caregivers sometimes have to drive two to three hours one way to get to their local VA hospital? This requires getting up early, getting yourself, the kids and your warrior ready to get out the door very early. Sometimes appointments run behind so the caregiver is trying to entertain and feed everyone while waiting on his appointment. Trips to the VA can take an entire day. It would be useful if you know a caregiver in your community and offer to keep the kids that day or pick them up off the bus. It is exhausting to try to juggle everyone at the VA.
2. Sometimes it is extremely hard to get meals on the table after a long day of appointments or it is impossible to get to the grocery store. Offer to pick-up some takeout or make a yummy homemade meal for a family you know that is caregiving. This would lighten the load and free up some time in the caregivers schedule to complete other tasks or maybe relax for half an hour.
3. Offer to mow the yard or do some landscaping. This has been a big challenge for us. The last time Bryan tried to mow the yard the mower flew backwards off our bank and hit a tree. He ended up in a full blown flashback from the loud noise the mower made when it hit the tree. Not only is he not physically capable to spread mulch or weed eat, it caused a trigger of his PTSD. Since then we have had to hire someone to do it. This is very expensive and most wounded warrior families live on a fixed income. To alleviate the yard burden, offer to mow their yard.
4. Be a good listener. We don’t usually need advice on how to caregive because we have been doing it for years -- but it does help to have a listening, non-judgmental ear. Offer to meet up for coffee and just listen. Sometimes we don’t have many friends that will just listen to our struggles.
5. Please don’t be jealous. I know that seems like an awkward thing to say but some friends get jealous of the attention that wounded warrior families receive. They may be on TV, in the newspaper or they get to meet influential people. This does not make these challenges glamorous or easy. We may be offered trips to amazing locations so our warriors can learn adaptive sports or for caregivers to get some much needed respite. This doesn’t make the injuries go away.
6. Be patient. It may take us a week or even a month to go out to lunch or return a phone call with our friends. We may have to reschedule. We may be too stressed and overwhelmed with our daily tasks that it may be hard to give back to our friendships. Please try to understand. We may simply forget to return your call but it doesn’t mean we are bad friends. We may feel anti-social so if we reschedule that lunch date a few times please let us.
7. Don’t say that you know what we are going through. Just because your brother’s friend’s cousin was deployed and got hurt doesn’t mean you know what we are dealing with. I can’t tell you how many times people have said they understand. If you don’t live with that person than you can’t possibly know what they are living through on a daily basis.
8. Encourage us. A lot of friends told me to leave my husband. PTSD compounded with TBI and physical injuries was a recipe for martial disaster at times. Don’t tell us to leave -- but encourage us to find ways to cope, research about their injuries and stick it out.
9. Offer a place to stay. Sometimes we may need to leave for safety reasons or we need some respite. Many live on a fixed income so they can’t just retreat to the nearest luxury resort. Having a slumber party with a dear friend can cure a lot of heartache.
10. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. We usually like to share our stories and challenges. It is OK to ask questions.
Cheryl Gansner is the wife of a wounded veteran that was injured on July 28th, 2006 in Kirkuk, Iraq. Bryan and Cheryl have been married for eight years and have one daughter. Cheryl has her bachelor’s degree in Social Work and is the Program Coordinator for Operation Homefront’s Hearts of Valor Program. Hearts of Valor (www.heartsofvalor.org) serves caregivers of wounded, ill or injured service members post 9/11. For more information on Cheryl check out her blog at www.wifeofawoundedsoldier.com.