Liz Hunt’s husband, Rob, was medically retired in 2014 after struggling with declining health, the result of severe chronic migraines, spinal damage, cognitive and memory issues, nerve damage, multiple traumatic brain injuries, as well as nightmares and PTSD. On his worst days, Rob needs emergency medical care to manage his pain. But that’s not what the public sees when they look at him. They don’t see the accumulation of physical and mental injuries that resulted from his 28 years of service. Rob’s wounds are largely invisible to them, with the only outward clue being his use of a cane on days when his gate is unstable.
In a myriad of ways, Liz helps her husband manage and cope with his multiple injuries. It is surprising to learn that only in the past few years, when Rob’s symptoms worsened, did she start to recognize her role as a military caregiver and reach out to network with other caregivers. She now participates in caregiver events at her local Soldier Family Assistance Center, gives and takes comfort in a monthly caregiver session at Joint Base Lewis McChord, and started a private, virtual support group. Liz notes that while being with other caregivers helps her manage stress and feel supported, peer groups also provide a forum to talk about benefits and services for caregivers and their care recipients.
Viewing herself as a “caregiver” has also allowed Liz to better deal with some of the more difficult emotional behaviors associated with her husband’s PTSD, and not take certain experiences too personally. She has joined a city-wide initiative in her hometown near the base to support and heal their military and veteran community, including caregivers.
In addition to participating in support groups, Liz found that community gardening was a therapeutic outlet for her and her family. Although Rob tried his hand at it initially—his physical injuries prevented him from continuing—Liz and their two young sons continue to enjoy working in the garden, which donates organic produce to local food banks that support many military and veteran families.
In her role as a Dole Caregiver Fellow, Liz is looking forward to expanding her connections with military caregivers to peers in her home state as well as around the nation. She believes that while military caregivers naturally want to advocate on behalf of veterans, they also need to advocate for themselves.