A veteran’s sacrifice is never forgotten, but their caretaker’s sacrifice can be overlooked.
“It’s a two-edged sword. You want to help tremendously, but you don’t know how,” said Chuck Arnone, a U.S. Marines veteran.
Arnone knows all too well how military families struggle to care for their loved ones after returning home from war, especially younger veterans.
“When a 30 or 40-year-old has these problems, it’s compounded because they want to be able to do more, they just can’t,” Arnone said.
Veteran Community Initiatives, Inc. (VCI) wants to help.
The organization is taking over Operation Family Caregiver. Coaches provide free, one-on-one mentoring to teach families and friends how to care for veterans with traumatic brain injuries, PTSD or disabilities.
“We teach the importance of self-care, stress management and basically adjust to whatever needs they might have,” said Lisa Pasierb, a caregiver coach at Conemaugh Hospital.
The program started at Conemaugh Hospital in 2012 after winning a $150,000 grant from the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving. Around 10-12 caretakers have graduated the 4-6 month program.
VCI President Tom Caulfield said by moving to a veteran-specific organization, the program can have a wider impact.
“They just don’t have the rapport that an ongoing veterans service organization has,” Caulfied said. “We deal 90% of our business with veterans and family members.”
VCI’s first step will be reaching out to local VAs, American Legions and VFWs to let veterans and their families know about the program.
“You want to reach people before they completely burn out. Once they’ve burned out and they’ve walked away from it, there might not be anybody else that can step in,” said Laura Bower, the national program director for Operation Family Caregiver.
Military caretakers and their families have higher rates of divorce, domestic abuse, depression and suicide.
“Know when you can handle it, know when you need help and who to reach for,” Arnone said.
Operation Family Caregiver workers said the program is about helping veterans and their loved ones who’ve reached their breaking point.
If you would like to learn more about Operation Family Caregiver, contact Veteran Community Initiatives:
727 Goucher St, Johnstown, PA 15905
VCI serves veterans and their families in 14 counties across Central Pennsylvania.