Caregivers gathered in San Antonio today to tackle issues faced nationwide by those caring for our nation’s wounded, ill or injured. The 3rd annual USO Caregivers Conference, brought together spouses, moms, dads, brothers, sisters and loved ones caring for wounded, ill and injured troops from the San Antonio area as well as national experts to address topics such as communicating with your loved one after injury, helping children cope with reintegration and rehabilitation, making marriage work after the battlefield and accessing military caregiver benefits.
Attendees were asked to share the joys and the challenges associated with being a caregiver. They also participated in various exercises like communicating with only numbers, and stress-busting breathing techniques.
“You as a caregiver are an integral part of our soldier’s success. They can’t succeed if you can’t take care of yourself,” said LTC Brian Almquist, Commander, Warrior Transition Battalion, Brooke Army Medical Center.
Ed and Karen Matayaka knew first-hand what everyone in the room was going through. They were both deployed to Afghanistan last summer where Ed was severely wounded after being struck by an IED.
“I had to go from being a soldier to caregiver as well as a spouse. That’s a really hard transition and it’s also very hard for the warrior to allow that to happen,” said Karen.
“I’m not back to a normal life yet. It never goes back to being normal,” said Ed. “That line in the sand is gone. Now, the struggle for us is finding out what the new normal is.”
“We interject laughter into every situation in life,” said Karen. “There is nothing you can’t laugh at,” continued Ed.
Mike Martinez traveled from El Paso to participate in today’s conference. As a spokesperson for soldiers living with PTS, Martinez was featured in the USO’s Spanish PSA “Portraits” educating Americans about the invisible wounds of war.
Speaking to CNN in March Martinez said: “I tell my brothers that are still serving, don’t let pride get in the way. Pride’s going to kill you. Take that warrior mask off and if you need to, get help. Get it in the beginning stages, and not later.”
Award winning children’s author and entertainer Trevor Romain worked with local caregiver couple Shilo and Kathreyn Harris to answer the participant’s questions about raising children when one parent suffers from invisible or visible wounds.
“I didn’t have answers for her (daughter Elizabeth),” said Kathreyn. There are some days we still don’t have the answers. We listen to her. We validate her. It’s OK to have these feelings. It is OK to be mad, scared, frustrated.”
The conference was free and open to caregivers, wounded service men and women and military medical personnel from the local San Antonio area. Five scholarships were also provided to those living outside San Antonio.
A resounding theme throughout the day was said best by Gabriele Dias, Ft. Sam Houston Soldier Family Assistance Center (SFAC) Director: “Learn something about yourself…because if you can’t take care of yourself then you don’t have anything left for anybody else.”
-from a press release