Caregivers of U.S. veterans bear scars of war

Kat Honaker, Brannan Vines, Torrey Shannon and Melissa Johnson bear the scars of war from caring for veterans with PTSD.
Kat Honaker, Brannan Vines, Torrey Shannon and Melissa Johnson bear the scars of war from caring for veterans with PTSD.
CBS News

(CBS News) DAPHNE, Ala. -- Brannan Vines' husband, her high school sweetheart, was once the man she leaned on when times were tough. That all changed after Caleb Vines returned from two deployments in Iraq, having sustained injuries in multiple improvised explosive device blasts.

"He was not only dealing with PTSD, but he was also dealing with traumatic brain injury, which very much changes somebody's personality," Brannan says.

Since 2007, Brannan has been Caleb's sole caretaker, dealing with her husband's night tremors, erratic mood swings and the physical injuries that have left him permanently disabled. At the same time, she's trying to shield her 6-year-old daughter. Brannan says it's left her with scars of her own.

"I was having nightmares about Iraq -- a place I've never been, other than in pictures and that kind of thing," she says. "I got to where I didn't like crowded places, just like my husband. It was all these sorts of things where, literally, I was almost mirroring his behavior."

Brannan's behavior has been recognized by the Department of Veterans Affairs as Secondary Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

"Although they didn't experience that initial trauma that injured the veteran, they are experiencing that trauma through being exposed to what the veteran has endured," says Deborah Amdur, who runs the VA's program that provides mental health services to caregivers.

Already, 6,000 caregivers have contacted the VA for help.

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Brannan Vines formed a non-profit five years ago called "Family of a Vet," which provides education and resources to caregivers.

Kat Honaker, whom Brannan met through the organization, is caring for her husband, who was injured in Iraq in 2006.

"I had to pull the gun out of my husband's mouth, and for two years now he has blamed me every single day for saving his life," she says.

Torrey Shannon, whose husband suffered a head injury in 2004, says being a caregiver has taken a toll.

"I struggle because I feel like I'm not doing enough, or not doing everything the way I should be doing," she says. "I am a very strong and capable person who is of sound mind, but twice I tried to commit suicide."

Through their shared struggles, the women are helping each other cope.

"We keep going. You know, it's all about learning new ways to handle it and figuring out how to stay together as a family," Brannan Vines says.

These military families are taking the road to recovery one day at a time.

Family of a Vet