|"Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast"
|"The liberal soul shall be made fat, and he that watereth, shall be watered also himself."
-- Proverbs 11:25
Since Mr. Marcum came back in 2008 from two tours in Iraq with a traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder, his wife has quit her job as a teacher to care for him. She has watched their life savings drain away. And she has had to adjust to an entirely new relationship with her husband, who faces a range of debilitating problems including short-term memory loss and difficulties with impulse control and anger.
“The biggest loss is the loss of the man I married,” Ms. Marcum said, describing her husband now as disconnected on the best days, violent on the worst ones. “His body’s here, but his mind is not here anymore. I see glimpses of him, but he’s not who he was.”
Ms. Marcum has joined a growing community of spouses, parents and partners who, confronted with damaged loved ones returning from war who can no longer do for themselves, drop most everything in their own lives to care for them. Jobs, hobbies, friends, even parental obligations to young children fall by the wayside. Families go through savings and older parents dip into retirement funds.
Even as they grieve over a family member’s injuries, they struggle to adjust to new routines and reconfigured relationships.
The new lives take a searing toll. Many of the caregivers report feeling anxious, depressed or exhausted. They gain weight and experience health problems. On their now-frequent trips to the pharmacy, they increasingly have to pick up prescriptions for themselves as well.
While taking comfort that their loved ones came home at all, they question whether they can endure the potential strain of years, or even decades, of care.
“I’ve packed my bags, I’ve called my parents and said I’m coming home,” said Andrea Sawyer, whose husband has been suicidal since returning from Iraq with post-traumatic stress disorder. “But I don’t. I haven’t ever physically walked out of the house.”
Those attending to the most severely wounded must help their spouses or adult children with the most basic daily functions. Others, like Ms. Marcum, act as safety monitors, keeping loved ones from putting themselves in danger. They drive them to endless medical appointments and administer complicated medication regimens.
One of the most frustrating aspects of life now, they say, is the bureaucracy they face at the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs, from problems with the scheduling of medical appointments to being bounced around among different branches of the system, forcing them to become navigators and advocates for their loved ones.
A variety of care services are offered to the severely injured. But many family members do not want their loved ones in nursing homes and find home health services often unsatisfactory or unavailable.
Despite Ms. Marcum’s cheerful manner and easy laugh, she has started taking antidepressants and an anti-anxiety medication when needed. She has developed hypertension, takes steroids for a bronchial ailment that may be stress related and wears braces to relieve a jaw problem.
“I just saw all of my dreams kind of vanishing,” she said.
Over the past few years, advocacy organizations like the Wounded Warrior Project lobbied Congress to enact a law providing direct financial compensation and other benefits to family caregivers of service members. In 2010 they succeeded, and by mid-September, the veterans agency had approved 1,222 applications, with average monthly stipends of $1,600 to $1,800. Caregivers can also receive health insurance and counseling.
“We know it doesn’t replace full lost income,” said Deborah Amdur, who oversees caregiver support for the agency. “It’s really a recognition of the kinds of sacrifices that are being made.”