Shannon’s husband Tim has served almost 20 years in the Marine Corps when, in October 2004, two pieces of mortar shrapnel penetrated his skull and lodged in his brain. In the beginning, Shannon advocated for Tim to stay in the Marine Corps to give him an opportunity to see if treatment of his traumatic brain injury would allow him to recover and return to duty. But as Tim’s injuries proved more all encompassing than previously thought, Shannon realized retirement would be the better option for her family. In the beginning, she assisted Tim with his daily activities like scheduling appointments, monitoring and issuing medication, helping with rehab at home, and supporting his physical and emotional needs, but today as Tim has progressed, role as caregiver has evolved to help him build self-sufficiency.
In late June of 2003, Joseph’s son Jay was serving in Iraq. But Jay’s life changed forever when he was shot in the back of his neck, severing his spinal cord. Jay is now paralyzed from the shoulders down, blind, and on constant life support. Joseph and his wife Eva have transformed their living room into an intensive care unit for Jay and now provide constant care for Jay including turning him 12 times a day. Since becoming a Military Caregiver, Joseph has learned and taught himself how to perform nearly all of these nursing care duties and also acts as Jay’s physical therapist, respiratory therapist, wound care nurse, GI nurse, and case manager. Though their lives are from easy, Joseph and his family consider themselves blessed to still have Jay in their life.
Andrea Sawyer is a caregiver for her husband, a veteran with severe chronic PTSD and TBI who served the mortuaries in Talil and Balad, Iraq. Andrea left her thirteen year teaching career to become a fulltime caregiver to her husband and an advocate for other wounded warrior families after she and her husband experienced difficulty finding treatment and services for his permanently and totally disabling injuries. They decided that they would strive to make changes in the health and support systems to improve services and care for those families and warriors that would come through the system after them. Using her history degree from Meredith College, and her teaching experience, Andrea focused her efforts on educating the public and lawmakers on the struggles faced by caregivers, wounded warriors, and their families. Andrea helped lobby for the VA Caregiver Support Legislation and has submitted, and presented, testimony to both the Senate and House Veterans Affairs Committees regarding needed improvements to the VA mental health care programs. She worked as a national spokesperson to bring attention to caregiver issues at Wounded Warrior Project. Andrea currently works as a family support coordinator at the Quality of Life Foundation where her favorite part of the job is being able to use her plethora of resources and contacts from her own struggles to help others. She enjoys being able to give help to others as a way of honoring those who helped her family when they most needed it.
The Poloskys have both served in uniform and on the battlefield. In 2008, both were stationed in Afghanistan as part of the storied 101st Airborne Division when Christina suffered anaphylactic shock and was evacuated to Germany. Christina went from leading Soldiers to some days being unable to do laundry or cook for her family. Kevin now cares for Christina and helps in raising their five children while also working at the Pentagon on active duty. It’s two full time jobs, but he feels blessed every day he gets to do it. Kevin hopes to share his wife’s story and stories like hers to ensure that those veterans with invisible injuries should have their sacrifices in the name of duty and honor recognized.
It is a truth beyond doubt for Patty Horan that military caregivers have more power and resilience than most people think. And so, when Patty has met roadblocks as she cares for her husband Pat, who suffered a severe penetrating brain injury in Iraq, she knows what it takes to remove these obstacles and keep charging ahead. Whether its planning “Pat’s Team” for the Army 10-miler, taking him to hospital visits for medical appointments or settling down for retirement near friends and family, Patty’s way of approaching her life and her role as a caregiver paints a vivid picture, showing the world that military caregivers are no different than average Americans, just perhaps a little more determined and resilient.