Whether or not their loved one’s wounds are visible, spouses of veterans commit to a heroic undertaking when they move into the role of caregiver.
“They also serve who only stand and wait,” wrote the poet John Milton, whose words in my mind conjure up images of spouses and other family members fretting about those in uniform far away — all too often in harm’s way. They too are serving our country and sometimes their service matches or even exceeds that of the ones on the front lines.
Veterans Day offers us an opportunity to honor the caregivers of service men and women who return from the battlefields in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and other danger zones with missing limbs, massive burns, and, all too often, damaged psyches. We honor these wounded veterans, as is appropriate, but I think it also appropriate and long overdue is that we should salute their caregivers, usually wives, who find themselves supporting their families and raising their children while also caring for their damaged husbands.
It should come as no surprise that many women facing this grim situation throw in the towel and sue for divorce. The divorce rate among wounded veterans is disheartening but understandable. I for one would never pass judgement on those who balk at this duty. At the same time, I have encountered many uplifting examples of spouses who patiently work with their damaged mates as they struggle to recover from terrible wounds, both physical and psychological. The challenges caregivers face are tedious in the extreme and their terms of service never expire.
In truth, I think those who have been hideously burned in explosions or who have lost legs and arms are relatively easier to love and care for than those who come back suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or traumatic brain injury (TBI). Often the victims of PTSD and TBI may bear little or no physical evidence of damage, but they have no less of a handicap.
They cannot hold down regular jobs or perform routine household tasks. They are often unable to get along with other people, even family and close friends. All too often they become dependent on alcohol and drugs that exacerbate their situation. Many of them hide out in their basements and refuse to answer the doorbell. Yet their caregivers must somehow keep the household going.
The term we use for these heroes — most often women — is “caregiver,” and it is both appropriate and inadequate. Appropriate because that is what they do, but inadequate because it does not convey the cost and demands such care entails. These patriots are no less heroic than the wounded warriors they care for, or less deserving of our appreciation and support.
Wounded veterans receive financial support and medical assistance, but at the end of the day, most of their support comes from their dedicated caregivers — true heroes in their own right. They deserve our gratitude and appreciation, and should be honored along with the wounded warriors for their heroic service to our country.