Brain Injury Recovery and Coping: a Long Road - Part 2
By Ashleigh Bryant
As 45 percent of caregivers report spending up to 80 hours a week performing tasks for the recipient, it is no surprise that Dr. Griffin’s survey shows an emotional and physical toll on their health. The intense workload, often accompanied by the need to help the veteran cope with the emotions of polytrauma and TBI (such as anger, frustration and depression), is associated with the caregiver’s risk
for poor health.
Those surveyed also responded to questions about experiencing caregiver feelings of strain and stress, anxiety, social isolation and depression. The study revealed a distinct link between the onset of these symptoms and perceived caregiver discrimination and stigma. The researchers concluded that adequate mental health support services were necessary to stave off the stressors that could ultimately lead to poor mental health.
“As much as service members and veterans struggle with accepting help for brain injuries and emotional trauma, caregivers also find it difficult to admit the need for assistance,” Jesinoski said.
Hummert echoed the study’s findings. “You are going to quite possibly need counseling for yourself and even other members of your family,” she said. “You need to be willing to accept that help and support, and let people help you.”
Caregivers for Iraq and Afghanistan-era veterans with polytraumatic injuries are more often parents (60 percent) than spouses (35 percent). This presents completely new challenges as parents are less likely to have access to the same resources as a spouse, particularly legal access to service-connected disability income that can help to offset caregiving costs. Dr. Griffin noted this makes it possible for some caregivers to be caught in the poverty cycle as a result of their financial struggle through the veteran’s recovery.
In 2010, DAV applauded the passage of the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act, which established a wide range of new support services for certain caregivers of eligible Post-9/11 veterans. However, it’s not just veterans fresh from deployment who battle with brain injuries. The VA has seen the largest increase of post-military TBI cases with patients in their 70s and 80s, resulting from everyday household falls and accidents.
DAV also expressed concern in testimony before the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs in March 2011 that the VA had not met appropriate deadlines for implementing these expanded caregiver support services. As noted in the testimony, in the absence of family caregivers, “an even greater burden of direct care would fall to VA at significantly higher cost to the government and reduced quality of life for these veterans who have sacrificed so much.”
Help is available for veterans and their caregivers, but more can certainly be done to lift some of the burdens they shoulder through the recovery process. The take-away from success stories like the Hummerts’ is to find solace in knowing you are not alone.
There are thousands of other veterans and caregivers learning to adapt to the same challenges, Hummert explains. “They are here to help you too, and can be your very best network of support as you travel this journey into your new life. Life after combat isn’t an end; it’s a whole new beginning.”
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