Caring for Injured Returning Vets

Caregivers for seriously injured veterans often become extended casualties of war. One mother of a veteran who came home with a serious brain injury said it felt like she was drafted.Miracles of modern medicine can be a mixed blessing for caregivers of returning injured military veterans. They welcome having loved ones back home, but often face a lifetime of painstaking caregiving for their wounded warriors. One mother of an injured vet called it the equivalent of being drafted.

It may be one the most unacknowledged and unattended problems resulting from more than a decade of war.

John Hockenberry, host of "The Takeaway" radio show, featured a series of stories last week about parents and spouses struggling to care for their injured sons, daughters or loved ones and, in the process, becoming extended victims of the wars they fought.

In one especially evocative story, Valerie Brown describes how her life has been turned upside down, including the break-up of her marriage and serious financial stress, in the wake of caring for her son who came home with a traumatic brain injury and partial paralysis from service in Iraq. In an earlier time, Sergeant John Barnes may not have survived his injuries and would have been remembered through pictures and a medal instead of by the constant torment of providing care for someone who never will recover fully. 

Programs such as the Wounded Warrior Project help, especially for injuries that can be overcome, allowing veterans to return to relatively normal lives. But the options are more limited for veterans with injuries with little prognosis for improvement. Their care is endless, which adds stress to parents who worry their injured warriors will outlive them and face an even more uncertain future.

Brown, in her interview with Hockenberry, said the needs posed by so many returning injured veterans is outstripping the capabilities of the Veterans Administration. Perhaps more profoundly, the situation is more outsized than most Americans realize — or want to realize. Brown admits she wouldn't have taken note either unless the problem had been plopped in her lap.

Few if any Americans, regardless of political party affiliation, would deny the best care for veterans, especially those seriously injured. While there are no easy answers for how to provide quality, ongoing care, it is a topic that deserves more attention than it has received to date.