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Supporting Wives of Wounded Warriors with Brain Injury and PTSD

Brain Injury Blog 

Supporting Wives of Wounded Warriors with Brain Injury and PTSD

by Marilyn Lash

Mothers and children are affected by emotional wounds of war.

As our service members and veterans come home from Iraq and Afghanistan, homecoming is not always the happy reunion of “happily ever after” we so often see on the evening news as children run into a parent’s arms and spouses hug with joy. This year I have been part of a team led by Marshele Waddell under Hope for the Homefront, conducting weekend retreats for wives of wounded warriors. Titled, When War Comes Homes DON’T RETREAT, the retreats focus on bringing hope, healing and solutions for the wives, mothers and women who are caregivers to wounded warriors. Operation Homefront has supported this project and been a valuable partner. You can find more information on the retreats and view a photo album. I was asked to participate with the presenting team because of my expertise in traumatic brain injury and family issues. In all my 35 years of clinical work and research, I have never seen such complex issues as these women of wounded warriors are facing at home. While I have heard many presentations about blast injuries and PTSD at brain injury conferences, it is the personal stories of these women that are so powerful. It is simply the most meaningful work that I have done in my career.

So many of these women are young, recently married, and have young children. So many of their husbands have catastrophic injuries including not only traumatic brain injury, but also spinal cord injuries, burns, and amputations. But it is post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD that is the overriding diagnosis among their partners that makes caregiving so stressful and challenging. Many of the women are experiencing compassion fatigue and secondary traumatic stress as caregivers. PTSD affects not only the wounded warrior but the caregiver and children, bringing an added dimension of emotional stress and psychological pain as they struggle to adjust to living again at home.

The transformation of these women over the course of the retreats has been remarkable. Many display enormous courage in leaving their husbands to attend. For many it is the first time they are doing something for themselves. They arrive Friday night feeling anxious, stressed, depressed, and fearful – only knowing that they must do something to help themselves. By Sunday, they are showing real signs of change and hope, making a commitment to care for themselves and heal their emotional wounds.

February 29, 2012