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Connecting caregivers

Program brings together those caring for injured veterans and servicemembers

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With the physical and emotional scars of deployments and training injuries lasting months to years, the stress on military caregivers can be intense.  According to the National Military Family Association, there are over 5.5 million caregivers supporting servicemembers and veterans in the U.S., 1.1 million of those are caring for post-9/11 servicemembers. 

As part of First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden's Joining Forces initiative, the Department of Defense tasked Military and Family Life Counselors (MFLCs) at bases around the country to create spaces for caregivers to meet, share their experiences, and learn about resources.  The Military Caregiver P.E.E.R. Forum began in 2014 and meets monthly at Fisher House on Joint Base Lewis-McChord to provide guidance and information for local caregivers.

Military caregivers are defined as any "spouse, friend, family member, or loved one who assists a wounded, ill, injured, or recovering servicemember in any activity of daily living," according to the program poster.  

"It's very private and you don't have to be registered in any type of program.  (Caregivers) can talk about anything from financial issues to education, employment or family issues, mental health, transportation ... the topics can really vary.  It's focused on what the group needs," explained Else Wingert, director of the Service Member and Family Assistance Center.

Wingert has been honored to see the way that caregivers support one another at the meetings: "The spouses, parents and friends who meet at the group are the greatest resource to one another. If one person needs resources, the other people in the group will know about a resource for that specific topic.  It's a place for them to get away from the house and have their own self-care time. Relax, talk to other caregivers and take a break."

"It's a private setting for caregivers to be able to connect and create an informal support network amongst themselves.  The program is run by Military and Family Life Counselors who do not keep any records or names of people attending the groups," Wingert explained.

JBLM currently has 46 MFLCs to serve the community.  In addition to facilitating the Military Caregiver P.E.E.R. Forum, the team organizes a Rest & Renew program, which offers additional activities and workshops for caregivers. The MFLCs are licensed professionals who are on-hand to provide situational, problem-solving consultations to military members and their families.

Caregiver meetings are held on the first Wednesday of every month from 9-11 a.m. at the Fisher House, located at 9999 Wilson Ave. in Tacoma.  The Forum for December will be Thursday, Dec. 8 at 10 a.m. at the Barnes & Noble in the Lakewood Towne Center. The location of future meetings may change, so attendees are urged to call the MFLCs program at 253.329.6546 to get the current location.

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