- - Thursday, June 4, 2015

Brian Vines and his wife, Natalie, share a love story rooted in service to God, country and each other.

Brian retired from the Army in 2012 with 28 years of service. A year later, after 20 years of her own distinguished service, Natalie was medically retired from the Army with injuries she sustained while serving in Iraq in 2005 and 2009.

Her injuries were life-changing — a traumatic brain injury, a seizure disorder, incapacitating migraines, a cognitive disorder and severe PTSD.

Their lives had taken a distinctly new direction, and they would come to rely more than ever on their strong spiritual foundation and the teamwork that had always been a hallmark of their relationship.

Before fate turned them to a page not in the book they’d planned for their future,

Brian and Natalie had envisioned an active retirement fueled by their love of sporting adventures and physical activities. Now, much of their time is devoted to trips to the VA and external medical clinics for behavioral health care and to treat Natalie’s other health issues. Her service dog, trained to be alert to her seizures, is always by her side.

Still, they make the best of their unanticipated circumstances by participating in wounded warrior activities and retreats.

Natalie sometimes summons the strength to shop, and despite or perhaps because of the tremendous pressures that arise from his caregiving role, Brian steals away when he can to take a bike ride, stretch his legs on a run, or drop a fishing line in the water for a moment of respite.

Like his female caregiver counterparts, Brian attests to the difficulties of being responsible for loved ones while also running the house, managing the finances, and satisfying each other’s expectations in the uncharted and often quick-changing lives resulting from visible and invisible injuries. He struggles to both find resources to help him provide better care for Natalie and to take care of himself so that he can continue to meet the challenges of each day.

While the public has become more aware that ill or injured veterans may cope with feelings of isolation, hopelessness and depression, Brian worries that there isn’t the same awareness for caregivers — many also struggle with those same issues.

As a Dole Caregiver Fellow, Brian wants to help the public become more aware and informed of the needs of military caregivers, and support them as essential to the mental, emotional and physical health of their veterans.

Military caregivers, says Brian, are entrusted to take care of our nation’s greatest treasures through their compassion, encouragement and selfless service.

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