Adjusting to an Unexpected Role: Caregiver

IMG_23000037656571-1Today, many military spouses are taking on a new role besides wife and mom. That new unexpected role is called caregiver. Never in a million years did I think I would become a caregiver at 34. Who knew? Hundreds of military spouses, like me, have taken on the caregiver role more frequently than people can ever imagine due to combat injuries or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

I don’t think many of us prepared for, or even anticipated, the added job title. Millions of unanswered questions and concerns are now a part of our life. But it doesn’t have to be a confusing and frustrating life. With the right resources, referrals, and people to help, what may seem like an unknown territory becomes manageable by getting information through social networks, and from wonderful organizations such as the National Military Family Association.

At first, I had to dig through a lot of information and learn not to be afraid of asking questions, even if it led me back to square one. Here is some of what I learned:

  • Be sure to attend all or most appointments with your spouse. It is important because you are becoming the advocate, the voice for your service member.
  • If you have a job and can’t get time-off, have someone there that your spouse agrees on. Someone who will relate everything back to you and the doctor if need be.
  • Make sure you have power of attorney for your spouse’s medical records. Medical information will not be released to you if you do not have one due to The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) of 1996. It doesn’t matter if you’re married or the parent of the service member.
  • Always ask questions if unclear: no question is a stupid question. If you are not getting answers or feel like your service member’s quality care if not up to standard, ask for someone else. It is always your right to obtain the best medical treatment for your loved one.
  • Take time out for yourself, even if it’s a hot bath and reading a magazine. You are no good as a caregiver physically or mentally if you are not well.

Being a caregiver is a continuous responsibility and I believe women, in particular, tend to think they can handle everything themselves. Most may not be as comfortable asking for help, especially when caring for an “invincible” service member. Not asking for help is a mistake—it’s important to get help when you need it and have your own support system in place.

As a caregiver, you can never really ‘get away’—you’re always there. But if you can find time for something else and get away from your daily routine, even for a short while, it can be great for your mind and health.

The best advice I would give to new caregivers is to be patient and be in it for the long haul. No one can tell you how long it will last, or if your spouse will get better. Don’t hesitate to get as much information as possible and know that people are there to support you, to lend a helping hand. You and your loved one are in it together, so just take it one day at a time.

And remember, love takes many forms and whenever you help each other, that form of love binds you closer than you can ever imagine.

Melissa-NovoaPosted by Melissa Novoa, Volunteer, Camp Pendleton, CA

America the Beautiful: Our PCS Roadtrip

badlandsMany people have to wait until their retirement years for the opportunity to drive an RV cross country to see our magnificent country. One of the benefits of military life, thanks to PCSing, is seeing many places you might not have traveled to early in life.

My husband and I were stationed at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, in Oak Harbor, WA. Our next duty station would be clear across the country at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, NC. Having missed out on our last cross country move because I was working in Washington DC, I was so excited to make this trip together with our pets. We were looking forward to seeing many of the iconic wonders of the United States.

We loaded our vehicle to the brim, like most military families do, and made our way to Walla Walla, WA, an area known for its Washington wines. We tried many different types of wines, called varietals, before calling it a night. The next day, we headed for Yellowstone National Park. We opted to take the scenic route through Idaho, called the Lewis and Clark trail. The picturesque and peaceful drive ended with an overnight stay at a little gem surrounded by snow covered roads, called Lochsa Lodge. They had the best pancakes I have ever tasted: huckleberry. We continued on our way the next morning, finally arriving in Montana.

buffaloLocated near the small town of Gardiner, MT, the North Entrance of Yellowstone National Park is the only entrance open year round to vehicles. Since we were traveling at the beginning of April, the interior of the park was still closed. But the little town of Gardiner had a surprise for us when we arrived: elk grazing everywhere!

We entered the park and stopped off to chat with the park rangers. They advised us to be cautious, since animals were constantly moving around the park. As we began our drive through Yellowstone, we encountered an entire herd of buffalo on the road! As we drove slowly through the packs, the buffalo walked right past our car… if we opened our windows, we could have touched them! Throughout the drive, we saw plenty of other animals – buffalo…okay, tons of buffalo, a 14-point elk, coyotes, and bear tracks. Fortunately, we never did see a grizzly bear that left the tracks!

Yellowstone was very quiet and had hardly any visitors when we drove through. It was, by far, the best time of year to visit since the crowds were thin. This allowed us to relax in the awe and beauty of the park. We finished our day at Yellowstone by soaking in a nature made “hot tub.” We walked a half of a mile to the Boiling River, a place where the hot water flows into the cold river. Many bathers love to soak in this natural creation, complete with incredible rock formations all around.

mt-rushmoreOur next destination was Mount Rushmore in South Dakota. After getting a recommendation from some locals in Gardiner, we took a sunset drive through the Badlands National Park. The striking geological deposits in the Badlands contain one of the world’s richest fossil beds, and with its rugged terrain, you feel like you’re driving through a science fiction movie. Here and there, we saw bighorn sheep grazing on the rock formations. Being surrounded by such stunning landscapes, I wondered why no one ever recommended the Badlands before now. We eventually made it to Mount Rushmore, which was iconic, and definitely a must-see place on any cross country adventure.

The next part of our journey was all about reconnecting with friends and family we hadn’t seen in quite a while. We stopped in Nebraska for a steak dinner with my old roommate, and then made our way up through Michigan towards Toronto, Canada, which was the most direct route to my college town of Albany, NY. I looked forwarding to visiting some of my best friends, and their families, whom my husband had never met! Before making it to Albany, we stopped on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls to take some photos with the falls still bathed in its winter glory.

We took a few days of much needed rest, and then drove a scenic route through New York to Massachusetts, and ended in Bridgeport, CT. Before we boarded the ferry to Long Island to surprise my family, we indulged in some lobster rolls and mac and cheese! Prior to moving to Whidbey Island, much of our family had not seen us since our wedding in September 2012. Our huge surprise visit was complete with some tears from my grandmother!

niagra-fallsWith the entire U.S. behind us, it was so much to be back in all the areas we have visited many times before.

Our next destination was town where my husband and I met, and where family and friends awaited our arrival: Washington DC. We had a few days to visit some of our favorite places in DC, especially Fado’s, the Irish bar, in Chinatown, where we met.

We had one more stop with more family in Virginia Beach before making the last leg of the journey to North Carolina. We got to play with the dogs on the beach, catch up with family, and rest a little from our long journey.
After 4,500 miles, we finally arrived in Cherry Point, North Carolina – our new home.

We were very fortunate and extremely grateful for the time we got to spend with each other, and our pets, on the journey. If your military travels require you to move across the country, I hope you take advantage of the possibilities that await you! Visiting with family and friends all across the country, and seeing some of the most magnificent places America has to offer was incredible. It’s one of those memories I will forever keep etched in my heart.

Posted by Nicole Messmer, National Military Family Association Volunteer, Cherry Point, NC

‘Board’ering Awesome! #WayBackWednesday

Our Board of Directors is integral in the day-to-day operations at our Association. We have an awesome team of leaders keeping our mission to support and strengthen military families in the forefront of our daily work. From securing partnerships and donations, to promoting our Association through the media, and planning our advocacy efforts, our Directors do it all– just like those pictured here, in 1983!

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Semper Paratus and Happy Birthday Coast Guard!

Founded on August 4, 1790, and celebrating it’s 224th birthday this year, our Association would like to recognize the United States Coast Guard for it’s continued service and sacrifice to our Nation. Happy Birthday, Coast Guard!

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Protecting Your Military Family Online: It’s YOUR Duty

militarycybersecurityHow many times have you heard the phrase, “Loose lips sink ships?”

What about “The enemy is listening?”

If you’re a military family, you’ve heard them before. And you’ve probably seen the posters around your installation reminding you to practice good Operational Security (OPSEC). As much as we sometimes tire of hearing the reminders, our military would fail to thrive without it.

In a time where deployments, reunions, births, and even deaths are blasted across social media channels, the lines drawn between being supportive, and being dangerous become blurred. Are you keeping your family safe?

We hosted a panel of experts to talk about this. General Michael Hayden, former CIA Director and Cyber Security Expert, and Kevin Mandia, top Cybercrime Sleuth offered tips for military families to protect themselves online.

Protecting our Nation is the duty of our service members. Protecting your military family online should be yours.

Could you be doing more to protect your family? What other tips could you give other military families?

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Online Engagement Manager

Storming the Hill Since 1969! #WayBackWednesday

It’s the 1990s, and our Association is making waves on Capitol Hill. During this decade, we released an innovative health care plan for military families, which included recommendations that were later incorporated into TRICARE.

Twenty years later, we are still on the forefront of TRICARE issues, including those controversial topics that your military family needs answers to. Not finding the answers you need? Leave us a comment and let us know how we can help!

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Deployment Monster: 5 Ways to be a Superhero for Your Kids

boy-on-dads-shoulders-with-kiteMilitary life is difficult. But if you can add parenting into the mix, you’re my hero. Not all military spouses were born to be mothers or fathers. Me? I’m somewhere in between. Even those of us who don’t have kids know it takes a special set of superhero skills to raise a resilient military kid. Any military spouse can learn some tricks of the trade!

Harder still, is the nasty deployment monster – seeming to lurk around every set of orders, ready to attack. Maybe you know when the deployments are coming? Sometimes it’s those little trips, trainings, and exercises leading up to the ‘big D’ that really stink.

So how do you superhero parents do it? I asked Meredith Moore, our Association’s Volunteer Services Coordinator for the National Capitol Region, what advice she could offer to help ease the stress and transition during a deployment. Meredith, a seasoned Navy spouse and mother of three, has five great tips parents need to know:

  1. Different ages respond differently to the separation. The young child who doesn’t understand time increments and travel distances needs concrete reassurance the deployed parent thinks about them and still exists somewhere else. School-age children, who listen to the news and adults talking, tend to fear for their parent’s safety (not just in war zone deployments). Preteens and teens will often take on the role of ‘spouse’ to the parent at home, and sometimes resent the deployed parent because the child has become the stand-in.
  2. Keep kids on the same schedule they were on before the deployment started. But be willing to break the routine in an instant if the child is having a hard day. If you always eat dinner at the table at 6:00, don’t stop just because the deployed parent isn’t there. Kids need to accept that deployment is a normal part of military life.
  3. Make sure you put your best attitude forward in front of the kids. Be honest with them when you are struggling but don’t put your burdens on them. Set the example of being resilient. They will follow your lead.
  4. Try not to use phrases like, “you’re the man of the house when your father is gone.” Can you imagine the amount of pressure that puts on a child? You and your spouse chose this lifestyle, the child did not.
  5. Join your command’s family group. Contact your Ombudsman, Family Readiness Group, or Key Spouse. Put the stigma away if you have heard bad things about it. They provide family programming and other great events during deployments. Chances are, you’ll meet someone you have something in common with, and the kids will benefit, too!

Though most parents don’t consider themselves a superhero, many feel even stronger as each deployment comes to an end. Now, can we figure out how to get time to speed up during the the ‘big D?’

What superhero skills did you use to get through a deployment with kids?

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Online Engagement Manager