On July 4, 1776, the United States claimed independence from England by issuing its “Declaration of Independence.” Today, July 4 is celebrated as a national holiday where families gather to barbecue, celebrate freedom, watch fireworks and enjoy their day off.
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 unsung heroes 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, the Vietnam War, the Persian Gulf War, and Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom in Afghanistan and Iraq (OEF/OFA). For this range of generations of veterans, long-term care can become necessary at any age. Sometimes, it is required to help veterans with profound needs for assistance.
Family Care & 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.
Fred Downs, a platoon leader in Vietnam who lost his left arm from a land mine explosion in 1968 told the New York Times, “When you lose an upper extremity, you lose your independence, your ability to take care of yourself. When you lose your independence, you lose somewhat of your dignity as a human being because you have to depend on others to comb your hair, go to the bathroom.”
A veteran such as Mr. Downs, who may have once held utmost dignity and pride for his service in the military, might be sensitive to accepting dependence on care from others. Family caregivers who support veterans are reminded of this constantly. In dedication to their spouse, sibling, son or daughter veteran, and out of respect for their sacrifice, caregivers take on a purpose that is different for a caregiver supporting a civilian. It becomes a duty not only to the veteran but to the country he or she served as well. It also becomes a way to restore independence for those who sacrificed it for the freedom of others.
Independent Living & Limitations
An ultimate goal of proper caregiving is to enable care recipients to live as independent a life as possible. Caregivers provide 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. 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.
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.
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 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.
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 or a family get-together. 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 sacrifices made by our veterans this Fourth of July. Here are easy ways to do that:
- 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.
“Treasuring Independence by Caring for Our Veterans,” by Michelle Mendoza, Amada Blog contributor.