Lately we’ve been noting how many times people are surprised at a comment or statistic about Caregivers of veterans. It made us think that compiling several of them might make more of you aware of what people don’t know, and therefore they cannot offer to help you. So, in the spirit of hoping others may read this (or you can send it to them), here is a brief and incomplete listing – feel free to add to the list! This just might make your family holidays a bit easier?
1. “The VA takes care of all medical care for your veteran and you, what are you complaining about?” (The VA takes care of the Vet’s care and Caregivers receive CHAMPVA or TRICARE depending on service status, caregiver program, and other factors, but not all care is covered for the caregiver. It can be very hard to find a doctor who takes CHAMPVA or who understands PTSD, so don’t assume life is “easy”.)
2. “As a Caregiver, you are paid for your work.” (Not in every case and not at market pricing for commercial caregivers. It is very challenging to explain to others what a "typical" day looks like, but the pay is not why you do what you do, but it helps meet the bills that stress you. Ask that person to accompany you on your next set of doctor visits; it may open their eyes and their hearts.)
3. “Besides, s/he’s your husband/adult child, you should take care of them just because you love them.” (Judgment by others not familiar with your days of constantly being on edge, dealing with a large bureaucracy, trying to apply logic to an illogical system, scheduling countless appointments, juggling 20 medications carefully, and being bone-tired has nothing to do with paybacks for love. Visible and invisible injuries take a great deal of patience and work to manage with the care team. It’s hard to keep the train on the tracks. This is why there is a Caregiver program at VA that covers at least some of your needs because it’s fairly obvious that if you all dropped off your vet at the VA that the system would crumble rapidly. These may be people you don’t need in your life…)
4. “You should get a therapist if you are stressed or not sleeping.” (That might be the case, but being a Caregiver is draining and stressful at times, and only a clinician can advise you. Having said that, talking with your peers or a professional might lighten your load. We bristle when we hear the words "you should"...)
5. “Never continue the conversation if the Caregiver is in tears.” (We disagree. We think this is a perfect time for active listening and compassion. If you can’t let down with those you’re close to or who need you, they miss out on an opportunity for support. Be a safe haven for them.)
6. “Don’t discuss talk of suicide or suicidal thoughts if the Caregiver brings it up.” (This is an excellent time to compassionately listen, and to also ask if they need other resources and professionals to discuss this serious topic. If they are seemingly a danger to themselves or others, call emergency services. If you are unsure, a call to the VA Lifeline would be appropriate to ask what to do for support. Sometimes, though, just providing a shoulder and a kind ear calms the anxious moment and the almost-crisis moment passes. However, when in doubt, always reach out for help!)
7. “PTSD and TBI are excuses for acting like a jerk!” (Perhaps, but unless you’re a physician and know the background and medical record of the veteran, the symptoms of either PTSD or TBI may not be managed well, or needs may have changed. Educate yourself on both, and know what to look for when medications are changed or someone is in denial over needing help. Great resources exist on both conditions, and alternative therapies may work when traditional first-line therapies aren’t working. No two vets are alike. No two Caregivers are either.)
8. “You’re not the one with PTSD – s/he is!” (Potentially false. Secondary PTSD or Generational PTSD are the terms used for the cumulative effect of being around those with PTSD and having to alter your normal way of living to accommodate the veteran with PTSD. Insomnia, hyper-vigilance, walking on eggshells, avoiding surprising someone, isolation, and altered communication may indicate that the Caregiver needs supportive clinical care also. Again, it helps to educate yourself and your family so they don’t inadvertently trigger a situation unwittingly.)
9. “S/he’s been back for two years, what’s the problem?” (War is hell. People come back from war changed, and they change those around them. Physical loss doesn’t get easier and invisible injuries are still misunderstood. There are Vietnam vets who have suppressed their emotions and experiences for 40 years and they suffer still. There is not a timeframe for “getting better”. Please do not judge Caregivers or veterans on their issues; judgment is not yours to make. Offer resources, a gentle ear, and recognize that everyone heals at their own pace and with appropriate care.)
10. “You need to make time for yourself – you’re running yourself ragged!” (We think that each and every Caregiver has probably heard this at one time or another. And, if you have run yourself ragged by always putting others first, then please, ask for and access respite care, a half-day off, or even begin seizing 15-minute intervals to breathe. Consider that if you fall down, the entire family structure will wobble. Don’t underestimate your critical role; you are the heartbeat of the family and you matter, so taking care of yourself is critical. To family members, please keep offering help proactively so that the Caregiver knows you really mean it. Caregivers are an independent, resourceful group, so coax them to lean on you and be there when they do.)
There are many more, but this posting is long enough. We wish you a Happy Thanksgiving, and may you have a calm and peaceful holiday.
Linda Kreter & the VeteranCaregiver Team