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Caring for caregivers

Blue Star Families provide free support workshop

Workshop for caregivers focuses on both physical and mental injuries facing servicemembers. Photo credit: Blue Star Families

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When the strongest of the strong come back compromised, the people who once depended on them become the ones depended on. When a spouse is left home during a deployment, he or she holds down the fort and yearns desperately for that helping hand and supportive shoulder to return. 

But that servicemember may return from deployment changed, with physical, emotional or cognitive wounds.  Instead of becoming a helping hand around the house, the servicemember - with appointments, medication and mood swings to manage - almost becomes another job for the spouse.

When servicemembers return physically impaired, yet another complicated layer is added.

A 2014 study by the RAND Corporation estimates that there are 5.5 million caregivers across the United States, with nearly 20 percent of that number caring for someone who has served since the Sept. 11, 2011 terrorist attacks.  And like their peers who look after individuals with cognitive delays and medical issues, military caregivers can experience health problems and difficulties in personal relationships and in the workplace.  

Whereas caregivers of people with cancer, Alzheimer's and severe cognitive delays can readily find resources and support groups without fear of stigma, military caregivers often find it more challenging to reach out.  Servicemembers may not want to admit to changes and challenges or may fear career reprisal.  Family members may be aware of issues that aren't being addressed and bear the double burden of keeping a secret and caring for their troops.

Fortunately, the organization Blue Star Families has created a program designed to help: Caregivers Empowering Caregivers. This program provides military caregivers with current and relevant resources and information through literature, online webinars (www.bluestarfam.org/resources/blue-star-caregivers) and in-person workshops.  These events are casual, confidential get-togethers where caregivers have face-to-face time with others in their situations, moderated by Blue Star Families staff and qualified caregiving experts.

A free Caregivers Empowering Caregivers workshop will be held Jan. 14 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at RP6 (9881 Bridgeport Way SW, Lakewood). Appropriately enough, the site of this event is a place for existing soldiers, veterans and their families to find resources supporting transitions.  But rather than transition, the Blue Star Families-led free event will focus on varying facets of caregiving, with topics including Invisible Injuries and Caregiving; Traumatic Brain Injury and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder; Prioritizing You, Secondary Post-Traumatic Stress; and Leadership and Awareness.

This casual workshop promises to be a confidential, interactive experience (not death by Power Point) with the opportunity to interact with others facing the same obstacles. Space is limited, and registration is required.  For more information or to register,  email caregivers@bluestarfam.org, and indicate whether childcare is needed.

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