We call them heroes. Veterans guard the lines so that we can sleep in peace at night. They risk their lives for their country, and those who come home are forever changed by their experiences—physically, mentally, and emotionally. They’re heroes without capes.
Every veteran who comes home needing care has stories and experiences to share. Remember that their experience was likely very traumatic, and their caregiving needs are complex. As a caregiver, whether a professional on a healthcare team or a family member, you can learn to understand and expect some common challenges to providing care to veterans:
1. Changes in behavior or ways of thinking. Changes can be mild to severe, to the point where loved ones may feel they have become a different person altogether.
2. Psychological trauma. Many veterans suffer from PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, characterized by recurring memories or nightmares of themselves, their colleagues, or enemies being injured, dying, or already dead. A person with PTSD can also feel paranoid, hyper-alert, anxious, and irritable. They may also be extremely uncomfortable in large crowds.
3. Numerous doctor's appointments, treatments, and therapies. Even moderate injuries can require weeks or months of treatment or rehabilitation, and patients may need to stay in a hospital. They also may be in a lot of pain, both physically and emotionally.
4. High levels of care. A veteran’s injuries and treatment mean they are very dependent on others to meet their needs, which can be a difficult adjustment for both patient and caregiver.
5. Low morale resulting from their injuries and experiences. A healthy, confident, independent individual can become highly dependent, angry, and frightened overnight as a result of trauma. These drastic changes easily wound a person’s spirit.
6. Difficulty talking or interacting with others. Their hardships and trauma (and the memories that accompany them) can put up an emotional wall between patients and those around them who have not been through similar experiences. This can mess with the way they socialize and deal with people.
As a caregiver, what should you do?
1. Expect the worst, but hope for the best.
Veterans may come home smiling, but feeling broken inside. It is best to expect the worst so you can prepare to care for their different needs. Try to encourage them, even in simple ways.
2. Refuse to pass judgment.
Show empathy and compassion, not pity. It will be hard also for you as the caregiver to see your loved one or patient struggling and possibly losing hope. Try to understand their feelings and motivation for their behaviors. Be patient and stay dedicated.
3. Take care of yourself.
Caring for a veteran is no easy job, considering the challenges to overcome. As much as you'd like to be strong all the time, there will be moments you'll feel exhausted, confused, and vulnerable. That is totally normal.
Learn how to seek help and support when things get overwhelming. Keep your nutrition and hydration status in check and get as much rest as you can.
4. Remember patient care.
This is the most basic help you can give an ailing veteran. Work with the healthcare team and follow the physician's recommendations. Document your observations of the patient’s progress and provide feedback to the team on your next visit. Patients will need assistance with activities of daily living, so brush up on your skills or get the training you need.
Caring for a sick or injured veteran is so special because you’re giving a little something back to someone who has sacrificed so much. Consider it an honor!
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