National Commander Commentary
Darlene Spence, Auxiliary National Commander
Caregiving is no simple responsibility
Approximately 40 million Americans provide care for an adult family member, according to the national survey “Caregiving in the U.S.” conducted by the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP.
Caregivers manage their loved ones’ physical, emotional, spiritual and practical needs, which can be as basic as helping fill and organize medication, taking the family to a doctor’s appointment or completing other tasks that simply must be done when someone needs help.
They are never “just simple” things, though, and they’re all done while caregivers manage their own lives, needs, families and, often, careers.
I know this firsthand because I, too, am a caregiver.
A recent trip to my doctor reminded me of the fatigue commonly experienced by caregivers. The years of adapting myself to take on my husband’s everyday functions, such as the lifting of his scooter, and the overall help with his mobility, have taken their toll.
When I visited the Audie L. Murphy Memorial Veterans’ Hospital in San Antonio and the Dallas VA Medical Center recently, I was briefed by directors of both patient advocacy departments. They enlightened me to the issues that many caretakers face around access to adaptive equipment. I identified very easily with what they told me because, when first applying for a scooter lift for my husband, I encountered issues processing the paperwork and had problems with the installment. The whole thing left me feeling helpless.
But VA public advocates in South Texas took it upon themselves to let my voice be heard and to provide help. It was a good reminder that, while the well-being of our veterans is No. 1 on our priority lists, it’s equally important that we caregivers also take care of ourselves.
Self-care includes getting sleep, eating regular meals, maintaining relationships with other family members, exercising and reflecting on the caregiver experience.
If you get burnout, ask for help. Disconnect, if only for a few minutes, to recharge your batteries. Focus on communicating and making choices with your veteran—it helps them feel good about coming to you for help.
DAV, the Auxiliary and the Department of Veterans Affairs have all recognized caregivers as valuable resources. That’s why, several years ago, the Auxiliary launched its Caregiver Initiative Program, knowing many Auxiliary members have been caring for their disabled veterans for years. I encourage you to learn more while also becoming familiar with the VA’s Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers. The program provides clinical support for veterans with substantial caregiving needs. For information, visit caregiver.va.gov.
Remember to be committed all the way!
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