They are the unsung heroes. There are no monuments built to them and no medals of honor awarded, yet they fight every day in the aftermath of America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
They are the caregivers: the families who love and care for the wounded warriors who come home transformed and tormented. “We stand quietly in the back,” says 35 year-old Tai Kimes, whose husband Casey returned from combat suffering from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder(PTSD) and severe Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).
He has endured as many as 7 surgeries, including reconstruction of his ear. He has neural stimulators implanted for his back and leg. He has had facial, shoulder and three back surgeries. Tai says Casey was deeply troubled by some of the actions he had to perform in the war: the orders to kill a young man who just had his hands in his pockets and the time he killed a young boy who was being used as a human shield.
“When he came home, he was angry all the time.” Tai told theGrio.com. Between juggling appointments and keeping the medications straight, Tai had to learn to calm her husband’s rage, which she says would often erupt over little things. “It was hard trying to keep the peace,” she said. Their situation improved when they moved to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, with their two children, 7 and 13.“We are getting better care,” she said. “But we’re not sure if he will be able to work, so I have to help him emotionally with that. I am not afforded the opportunity to say– honey, I want to stop. I am broken. Can you build me up?”
Tai says her faith, their love and her friends keep her going. She adds: “We are a better couple because we have gone through the fire and come out together.” Forty percent of post 9-11 caregivers are between 18-30 years old and like Tai are often caring for an adult and young children according to the Rand Corporation, which reports that there are an estimated 5.5 million family members providing services for wounded veterans.
Pam Stokes Eggleston, 47, and her husband, Charles, 48, were just married when Charles was sent to Iraq for the first of two tours with the army. The second time, he was hit by an IED. He returned with PTSD and TBI and had to undergo over 60 surgeries for physical injuries. “He was a different Charles,” Pam told theGrio. “He couldn’t sleep more than two hours a night, he developed intense road rage, he would hear sounds that I wouldn’t hear and was hyper vigilant.”
Pam says she began to suffer sleep deprivation herself and developed secondary PTSD. She said initially trying to get care for Charles at Walter Reed Hospital in the Washington, DC area, was a nightmare. “The buildings were dilapidated, there were rats running through the halls, the staff was overworked and burnt out, they made mistakes.”
Pam took her grievances to then Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. She says the hospital staff threatened her husband if she wouldn’t stop, but she kept complaining. Finally, the Washington Post published a damning expose documenting the deficiencies at Walter Reed, and things began to change. Pam says her husband gets excellent care now.
“I lost a lot of myself,” she says. Now Pam finds her strength in her spirituality and in working with Blue Star Families, a support group for military families that she helped form.
Jason Hurd, 34, told theGrio he proudly joined the military in 1997 to defend his country. He was a combat medic in the army. “After I got tp Iraq, I saw things weren’t like what we were told. We were brutalizing Iraqis and there were no weapons of mass destruction. I came to believe we were just there to exploit their resources. I felt my service was wrong. I felt betrayed, and that made me outraged”
Jason came home 100 percent disabled and deemed unemployable. “I was drinking heavily and having suicidal ideations. I was driving down the road like I was taught in Iraq: In the middle of the road, swerving back and forth and going about 90 miles an hour,” Jason told theGrio. Rushelle Frazier, his fiancée, says, “The biggest challenge is dealing with an overworked VA staff that makes mistakes. Jason was on a medication that had the wrong instructions on it, causing him to sleep all day. It took weeks of arguing to get it fixed,” she says. Jason was given around 7 different medications, none of which worked but instead gave him serious sexual side effects.
“I finally found strength in Iraq Veterans Against the War, which became my community and gave me voice,” Hurd says.“On this Memorial Day as we honor the veterans, we must not forget the heroes who care for us, ” says Hurd. But with the current political furor over hospital deaths, excessive delays, and substandard treatment at scores of VA hospitals, it could very well mean that any efforts to serve the needs of families who care for wounded warriors at home are likely to stay on the back burner.