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By McKayla Skinner

The celebration of Veterans Day in the United States this last week gave all the opportunity to reflect on the many sacrifices of those who have served their country. Yet it is also important to remember the unsung heroes: those military caregivers who share in the cost of war. Recently the Rand Corporation published a study on military caregivers. They found that “1.1 million people were providing support to veterans of the post-9/11 wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Another 4.4 million people were caring for veterans of earlier eras.” Some of the prominent findings of this study are illustrated in the following graphic from Rand Corporation:

From this, it is clear to see that post-9/11 caregivers are often spouses caring for veterans, doing so with less of a support network and at a younger age, with more responsibility to financially provide. Additionally, the Rand Corporation shares brief narratives of the experiences of these caregivers. Three of these narratives give key insights on the life that caregivers lead.

Jessica Allen cared for her husband who was recovering from losing both legs (the result of a 40-pound bomb). He received care at a medical center in near Washington, D.C., 600 miles away from home. It required constant trips to visit him every other week, leaving her two young daughters in the care of extended family. Jessica is overwhelmed at times when she considers her many roles in the family, and all of those that depend on her.

Brian and Natalie Vines served together in Iraq in 2009. As a result of her service Natalie now suffers from “severe migraine headaches, a cognitive disorder, balance issues, and severe PTSD.” Because of this Brian has learned to plan for their days the night before, establishing routes and laying out clothes, in an effort to avoid any distressing surprises. “At restaurants, he knows to always ask for a table at the back, away from noise, with a clear view of the door so Natalie can see anybody coming in.” Brian puts his wife’s needs before his own because, he says, “that is the definition of love.”

Emery Popoloski knew that her husband Charlie had been hit by a mortar blast while he was gone on his deployment, but his physical appearance did not seem harmed upon arrival home. However, her life changed when “he was diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury, PTSD, and a seizure disorder.” She went from spouse to full time advocate and unpaid case manager helping him with appointments, insurance, and financial planning. She now bears the constant expectations of two full time jobs as a criminal paralegal and a young mother of children, whilst managing her husband’s care.

These individuals and families have sacrificed to ensure the safety of our lands and liberties. Knowing this, it is important for all of us to remember and support these families not only on Veterans Day, but every day. Doing so can be as simple as reaching out, inviting them into our circle of friends, and helping them as they transition into a new stage of their lives. Offer to help with meals, care for children, and be a dependable friend on those days that they need one. The findings of this study, and the narratives found therein, make it clear that the challenges military caregivers face are ever changing and difficult. As it is often spouses caring for veterans, doing so with less of a support network, at a younger age, and with more responsibilities to financially provide, may we reach out and provide additional aid and strength where we are able and do more for these men, women, and families who have already sacrificed so much.

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