Caregivers Of Wounded Warriors Face Their Own Challenges

Kelly Wallace is a CBS News correspondent based in New York.
After producer Tony Maciulis and I showcased a camp for wounded women veterans in June on the "CBS Evening News with Katie Couric," our senior producers encouraged us to find a follow-up story. That was easy. What about the spouses and the caregivers, suggested a contact with the Adaptive Sports Foundation, one of the organizations which sponsors these free camps for wounded veterans and their families. We thought about it and realized while much has been said about the wounded veterans, less familiar are the real challenges and strains of the caregivers who love them.

Think about the numbers. Nearly 33,000 men and women have been injured in Afghanistan and Iraq and those numbers don't include men and women with invisible wounds, the ones dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder. Behind many of these injured veterans, there is usually a caregiver, a spouse or a mom or dad, who is often overlooked.

Twenty-five-year-old Nancy Kules, whose husband Ryan lost an arm and a leg in an IED attack in Iraq in 2005, told us her needs took a backseat until the moment Ryan was able to care for himself. "I think they get used to being catered to, they get used to being taken care of," she said during an interview with Ryan, 27, by her side. "And at some point, you do have to say the reason we rehabbed and worked our butts off for a year, for you to be able to walk, for you to be able to take care of normal things, for you to be able to cook is that so you can get off the couch and make me dinner, that's okay, too."

At a camp this past weekend for wounded veterans and their families, another one sponsored by the Adaptive Sports Foundation and the Wounded Warrior Project Nancy met two women who know what it is like to walk in her shoes. Danielle Andrade's husband lost both his legs in an IED attack in Iraq. In a similar attack, Casey Washburn's husband lost part of his foot.

"It's like sitting with old girlfriends because they know what we're going through and we can relate to each other better than some people we've known longer," Danielle said. "We go to a lot of the events," said Casey, referring to her and her husband. "That brings us together. It's almost like our counseling."

For the story, we wanted an expert – someone who could put the impact on military spouses into some perspective. We met clinical psychologist Barbara Romberg, who started a program called "Give an Hour," encouraging therapists to donate an hour a week to help military families. Since the program began, more than two thousand therapists have donated their time.

Romberg says for every person who has been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan (1.6 million men and women so far), eight family members are believed to be directly impacted by that deployment – many are the caregivers whose lives have been changed forever.

"Those numbers are huge in terms of the families affected, the children affected and the long-term ripple effects. This is a huge societal issue," she said.

Too often, the spouses or caregivers are reluctant to come forward and say, 'I need help,' Romberg told us. "I think we need to do a better job of telling them that's okay. That we care for them, too. That they are part of the families who serve."

Signs a caregiver needs help include increased irritability, a lack of pleasure, difficulty sleeping, loss of weight or weight gain, difficulty concentrating and relying on substances to escape, according to Romberg.

"The more we normalize it, the more we can feel like this is just part of healing, if I break my leg I go to the doctor, I take medicine, I get it set. If I come back from war or I'm treating a returning warrior, this is what happens to me and I seek help and I heal," she said.

If you know a caregiver treating an injured veteran, consider forwarding them this blog or tonight's story on the "CBS Evening News with Katie Couric." They may need help or they may just need to know there are other people who know just what they are going through. Nancy, now a mother of one of the most darling 14-month-olds we have ever seen, said it best. "When you know you're not the only one doing something then it's always easier… So if you can meet another spouse that can just say, 'Yeah, he's done that' or 'Yeah, he's like that sometimes' or 'Don't you hate it when,' then it makes you feel less, you know, you're not alone."