- - Monday, June 8, 2015

Melissa wants others to know that it takes great effort for military caregivers to be strong and resilient.

They learn to overcome tremendous and continuous difficulties despite often feeling defeated, overwhelmed and alone.

Melissa is married to an Army combat veteran, Sean Johnson. Sean had served in Operation Desert Storm and was injured in Iraq in 2006 when he was struck by a mortar blast that caused a traumatic brain injury. He’s now legally blind from the blast effects and struggling with PTSD.

For a long time, Melissa struggled with her emotions about their circumstances and the additional responsibilities that fell on her as a parent and caregiver. She felt angry and bitter, and the upheaval in her life caused her to question both her role in this veteran community, and her faith.

The answers did come and they reinforced her commitments, but the journey was difficult.

Because Sean was in the Army reserves and not attached to the life and support of a military installation, his injuries made it even more difficult for Melissa to find trained professional help, social support and resources.

With their rural location, they are three hours away from the nearest VA facility, and they routinely make the six-hour round trip for Sean’s healthcare needs. Still, the facility doesn’t offer everything they need, such as respite care.

While they have the option to consult with civilian healthcare professionals, many don’t offer needed special services such as stress tests, MRI’s and CT scans.

From her experiences, Melissa realizes that many civilian providers don’t understand the types of wounds or the complex combination of physical and emotional injuries her husband and many other veterans suffer, let alone understand the caregiver’s needs or role in their loved one’s healing.

Being far removed from a military base also means Melissa can’t take advantage of training and education programs. To be away for a weekend or even a day trip for training requires finding respite care and being able to afford travel accommodations. Those are major hurdles, as Melissa had to resign her job after 15 years as an elementary teacher to become Sean’s full-time caregiver. Like many other caregivers, these restrictions keep her tied to home and an environment without adequate support.

Melissa felt defeated, overwhelmed and alone as she began her new role as Sean’s caregiver. That is why she yearns for communities in which caregivers live to have a deeper understanding of their challenges and need for support.

She eventually reconnected with her faith and found her purpose, helping others in similar situations. Now her role as a Dole Caregiver Fellow has given her a special sense of pride and accomplishment — she knows she’s helping other caregivers by sharing her experiences publically, talking about the hero in her life.

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