On July 4, 1776, the United States claimed independence from England by issuing its “Declaration of Independence.” On Sunday, July 4th is celebrated as a national holiday where families gather to barbecue, celebrate freedom and watch fireworks. This year with Covid-19 restrictions loosening in many states, dazzling pyrotechnic shows are back in a big way.
In addition to participating in festivities, we have a duty as Americans to honor those who have made sacrifices to preserve our freedom and independence. While this duty is often forgotten, there are caregivers and other unsung heroes in senior care who serve our veterans not only on this holiday but every day of the year. At the forefront of our borders and in the face of many dangers, veterans were able to brave and endure extreme hardship to protect Americans at home. When they come back, it is only moral to return their sacrifice by providing them with all the quality care they need.
Today, the veteran population of America includes men and women who served in a range of battles throughout history. The oldest served in World War II. Since then, veterans have come home from the Korean War (also know as “The Forgotten War”), the Vietnam War, the Persian Gulf War, and Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom (OEF/OIF) in Afghanistan and Iraq. For this range of generations of veterans, long-term care can become necessary at any age.
Family Caregiving and Loss of Independence
Family caregivers tend to stand at the front line of providing veterans’ long-term care. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs calls these caregivers those who have “borne the battle.” Veterans’ caregivers often compensate for the independence and quality of life lost by warriors who return home with disabilities, health issues and mental illnesses, or “invisible wounds.” A spouse, parent, sibling or child often takes on this task, which can be especially difficult if they have to manage other responsibilities.
Independent Living and Limitations
An ultimate goal of proper caregiving is to enable care recipients to live as independent a life as possible. Trained caregivers like those employed at Amada Senior Care provide in-home care services that recipients may have done on their own in the past. But with their help, recipients are encouraged to maximize all independence available given their state of health, mind or well-being.
Take, for example, a senior veteran who requires aid in bathing and dressing or other activities of daily living (ADLs). Since a caregiver is able to help the senior accomplish these things, the senior can go through a regular day doing other things independently. Because they are clean and well-dressed, they are presentable in public and can travel, socialize and eat meals comfortably on their own.
One Senior Veteran’s Home Care Story
John Tucker, a 78-year-old Vietnam veteran and senior client of Amada Senior Care of Nashville, is confined to a wheelchair due to arthritic knees. His caregiver Bob Schricker was able to help him obtain medical equipment from the VA to assist with his mobility around his home. Bob installed a carpet runner so that he could wheel about easier. He also was successful in arranging local medical care for John who, although he can drive, was having difficulty making the long drive to the Nashville VA Medical Center. John has been able to regain his upper body strength since a hospitalization two years ago.
The key to preserving the highest amount of independence, despite a dependence on a caregiver for help with activities of daily living (ADLs), is in accepting limitations. This may be easier said than done for a middle-aged OEF veteran compared to an aging Vietnam veteran, or even vice versa. Though the life of one receiving care outwardly appears highly restricted, accepting care from a caregiver is easier when physical and personal limitations are acknowledged, not denied.
Many Veterans Carry ‘Invisible Wounds’
Researchers have studied examples of limitations on independent living for veterans. It could help veterans’ caregivers to know that studies are most recently concerned with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury in particular, especially among the 2.2 million Americans who were deployed since the September 11 attacks.
These invisible wounds can significantly limit a veteran’s ability to manage ADLs, their mental engagement, interaction with family, mood, character and mental health. These are difficult obstacles to independent living. Caregivers who work on healing veteran’s emotional and mental wounds are impactful and valuable, especially if they do it with a genuine sense of concern for the veteran’s health and wellbeing.
“John told me of the difficulties he had to deal with caring for the men he led and protecting them with his own body,” Bob shared. “He said that the way he deals with PTSD is that he had to do something that was bigger than him after he returned from Vietnam. He felt he would have been a suicide statistic like many other veterans if it weren’t for his grandmother’s earlier guidance as he was growing up.”
About a year ago, John and Bob were guests on “PTSD Warrior Stories,” a YouTube series by veteran and country singer Chris Turner. In addition, John is honored on the Wall of Heroes at the Veterans Clinic in Gallatin, Tenn.
Respect a veteran’s journey towards accepting their limitations with obstacles like these. Provide their care optimistically, with hope that they will acknowledge limitations in order to shed light on newer possibilities. Work together towards compensating for any lost independence or quality of life.
Treasuring Independence this Fourth of July
This holiday is meant for more than a long weekend. We can take independence for granted or forget what it cost to achieve and maintain. Don’t forget to treasure your independence, the independence of others and the sacrifices made by our veterans this Fourth of July. Here are some ways activities to do with family, friends or on your own this holiday weekend or during the year:
- Take Time to Reflect on what independence means to you or what it meant to veterans who made sacrifices for it.
- Read up on history to learn about the Revolutionary War and other conflicts our veterans have fought in to protect freedom.
- Say “thank you” to any veteran you know or meet.
- Listen to a veteran’s story with patience and attention. Let them share their experience, hardship and lessons to a kind, listening ear.
- Hold a moment of silence with your family or friends at your Fourth of July get-together to reflect on fallen warriors and the value of independence.
- Volunteer at a local institution that benefits veterans in need.
- Donate to an organization that provides financial assistance to veterans.
“Promoting Independence by Caring for Our Veterans,” by Michelle Mendoza and Michelle Flores, Amada blog contributors.