By Debbie Gregory.
Like their family who serves or has served, military family members sacrifice in support of their country. These parents, spouses, grandparents, siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, and children of American service members have had to say goodbye to their loved one, often multiple times, hoping that they come home safely. It is an agonizing experience that tests the bonds of every military family. For many of today’s military families, the sacrifice does not end when their hero separates from the armed forces. With the heightened occurrences of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) among Veterans, family members often have to become caregivers for this ever-growing number of Veterans.
To say that living with a Veteran who has PTSD is difficult would be a huge understatement. Veterans who suffer from PTSD can experience nightmares, night terrors, and flashbacks. Instead of turning to those closest to them for help and support, they often pull away. Family members who are caregivers for these Veterans observe their the suffering, from something that is difficult to comprehend.
Veterans with PTSD often exhibit unusual behavior that can be difficult to deal with. Veterans affected by PTSD sometimes insist on sitting in certain areas of the room. This can be annoying for the caregiver at home, but trying to manage this behavior out in public can be an unbearable task. But behaviors like this can be easier to manage if the caregiver can understand their source. The ailing Veteran has been traumatized by a horrific occurrence that they usually had no control over. A death or multiple deaths of comrades, the witness of those deaths and others have forced the affected Veteran’s brain to protect itself in order to function for his or her own survival.
This trauma may cause those who suffer from PTSD to constantly feel like they are in danger. This endless feeling of doom can result in feelings of anxiousness or irritation, and may lead to episodes of panic or withdrawal and isolation. Veterans with PTSD are also reluctant to make friends or connect with people, for fear that they might lose them, too.
In the same way that someone with PTSD can’t relax for fear of sudden danger, caregivers begin to remain constantly vigilant for things that could trigger an episode or anxiety for the Veteran. In fact, there are many reported instances where caregivers begin to display some of the same behaviors as their family member who suffers from PTSD. Many in the behavioral health community refer to this as “Secondary PTSD”.
Aside from Secondary PTSD, caregivers can also suffer from caregiver burnout, which is the deterioration of the physical, psychological, or medical health of a caregiver. This is a direct result from the time spent with the affected individual.
In order to support the family members who provide care for a Veteran suffering from PTSD, the VA has established a Caregiver Support portal on their website. The portal offers advice, encouragement and a sense of community to caregivers. It also proves them with links and numbers to other services and resources, including the number for the VA’s Caregiver Support Line: (855) 260- 3274. This is a valuable service for military families who continue to sacrifice so much in support of their hero.