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Local Nonprofit Offers Support For San Diego Military Caregivers

November 5, 2013 1:23 p.m.


Lori Van Tilburg, Executive Director, Southern Caregiver Resource Center

Jessica Bleigh, military wife and former caregiver

Related Story: Nonprofit Offers Support For San Diego Military Caregivers


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Military wives and husbands dream of the day of coming back to normal life and starting again. Some new veterans returned with new difficulties. Some families find themselves in the new role of caregiver. My guests are Lori and Jessica, and welcome to the show. Jessica is the wife of a military member injured by an IED. Your when people come to seek help from the organization what kind of problems are they dealing with?

LORI VAN TILBURG: Depends on the person. They don't understand what it means to be caregiver. They have not been trained to be one so this is a new role for them and it depends on the disease work condition that they are doing with to get someone that is dealing with Alzheimer's they may not know what that means. We just cannot knowing what traumatic brain injury looks like. A lot of it is firsthand what is this condition that I'm dealing with. What is it mean in terms of physical care. What do we need to provide? How can I fix my home up to accommodate disabilities that I may be facing. Is a difficult situation for these families.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Do you deal a lot with the VA?

LORI VAN TILBURG: Yes. We're partnering with the VA and the Naval medical system in Balboa and were working with both of them as many partners to provide services to family caregivers.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What is the goal of the group operation?

LORI VAN TILBURG: It's twofold. An outreach program designed to provide education and training to families and to get the word out, to seek services to reduce stress. And also learn how to cope with this. The second component is the evidence-based intervention that we work with families like Jessica to help her understand what are these problems are and set up realistic goals. We're there to be as a coach for the family members to help them navigate this new journey.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Walk me through one of the problems you might hear. I would you go about finding a solution?

LORI VAN TILBURG: With our operation those families are faced with having to have their family member come back to the war from it from the work to their family member who leaves and goes off to war and they come back as a different person. They do not understand what these behaviors are we help them understand what met at the injury is per what are the behaviors that they are working with and what did they need to do to understand that? Lulled them look at their situation and understand this is a different family now. With PTSD those behaviors may exhibit through nightmares, anxiousness, stress training the family had to deal with those situations when they arrive to help support the family. With Jessica she has young kids. How do we work with kids to reduce their anxiety. We really help them assess where they are and develop a care plan and workaround that.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I have a question, how does this differ from the support that you need to give a caregiver for Alzheimer's?

LORI VAN TILBURG: I think it is similar in a lot of ways. Our main goal is to support the care caregivers to take care of themselves. I think with folks coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan, dealing with the culture of the military, it's very different in their different issues that come up doing with the military. It's learning to understand what the culture and rules in existence still in existence for the members.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So you can guide them for that red tape as well? With Jessica she is very young. Recently married young kids and they do not have a lot of life experience behind them and a lot of them are newly married in need to understand how to navigate these problems together. Let me bring you into the conversation, Jessica. What I understand is that your husband was injured. Can you tell us what happened?

JESSICA BLEIGH: On March 9, 2011 my husband was traveling in a Marine reconnaissance vehicle and Afghanistan as a minesweeper. It was a normal mission, and then a 240 pound IED went off and he was injured.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: He was injured quite badly?

JESSICA BLEIGH: It flipped four times before they came to a stop. All the guys were pinned and inside the vehicle and he broke both femurs and broke his right arm and had fractured vertebrae.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: He came home and was in the hospital and you saw them there, you're glad to have him home despite that he was injured. When he got back, what happened?

JESSICA BLEIGH: We were in out of hospitals for a while so this was our first hospital. In and out of hospitals. It was a complete role reversal. We were both different people trying to find our new day today. We're learning all these different therapies.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: How long you been married before the accident?

JESSICA BLEIGH: Three years.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So Tim camr home and you had to chauffeur him to appointments and do therapies with them and you had to be there for him all the time, who is there to support you?


MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: This is obviously very difficult and emotional. How much of that emotion comes to you in operation family caregiver? What you do to help people who are obviously emotionally and physically overburdened?

LORI VAN TILBURG: One of the things nice about our resource centers is that we have family consultant that when Jessica was pursuing through this was not available but now she would be looked up with one of our family consultants. That person would be there for her all of the time to everything that she's going through. Sometimes is not to deal with the concrete issues of benefits or getting something specific, sometimes it is to provide that of emotional support and work with family caregivers and work with Jessica to build and provide counseling to her and talk to her about what she's going through and I think she is expressed to me that it's hard sometimes to talk to family members because they do not understand what she's going through. They are not living it every day like she is. They may view that she is complaining. We hear that a lot. Benefits of talking to consultants they are there all the time to support you and your feelings are never right or wrong. We're how there to help support you. There's a lot of guilt goes into caregiving. There's a lot of depression and burden and all of that is very normal and we're there to let you know that it's normal and good to reach out to talk and one of things that just as expressed is that often times your there by yourself and isolated and alone and that is the key scene to get people to watch out reach out for support that is there. You were not trained to be caregiver that is normal for not normal for you to take care of yourself in order, it is very hard.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Jessica, did you reach out for support or did you get it from other and military spouses?

JESSICA BLEIGH: I did not meet spouses until about a year later. That is when I found a strong group to reside in. And to find some friends there going to the same situation where to understand the day today and the differences here.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And did you sit down together and trade stories about how you're dealing with this?

JESSICA BLEIGH: Yes we go to the hospital's every Wednesday and have our own room and we can all sit and shut the door and say whatever we want to, it is a great group.

LORI VAN TILBURG: Oftentimes I think that to be strong for a family member, you do not want them to see that you're struggling, crying and they are upset and depressed and they are anxious too. You keep that aside that everything is great and you need the opportunity to be able to talk with others and show that you're having a hard time in any pick up and go back and take care of your loved one again.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And is a part of military culture why people are somewhat reluctant to ask for help?

LORI VAN TILBURG: Absolutely. My understanding of talking to folks that been injured in the military they are very reluctant to reach out because they are so ingrained that they want to get back to the war. It want to fight with the team members and don't want to let people down. They don't want to let folks know that they have PTSD or want people to understand that their struggling. They want to fight again.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: But the family does need help.

LORI VAN TILBURG: The family does now and they need to reach out. We're nonprofit or connected to the military. Families that come to us it's everything is confidential and information is not going to the record through the VA or DOD is a place for people to come and get help and support and it's free. It's a really good opportunity for people to get the help they need to. People like Jessica, they are very young and this is something that is going to go on for years there to build that infrastructure back in the family and get support is the most important to keep that to mean it together.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: How did people find out about your program?

LORI VAN TILBURG: For program we have a advisory committee. Through that committee that is our reach to the community where we pulled out experts from the field and other programs that served. We've recently with their program hiring and outreach for Nader to go out and put the bits in the ground to get the message out to folks and the neighborhoods in places where not everyone goes to be a first help and support so where are the military families who will reach out to them

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Jessica thank you for coming in and sharing your story. We asked you to relive some of the hardest times in your life by telling the story. Perhaps you can tell us how things are now. I think things have improved for you great deal, haven't they?

JESSICA BLEIGH: Things are great, my husband is able to stay in the military. It was a big plus for him because he wants to work around his men and do what he loves doing. He is actually finishing independent duty corpsman school. History of the corpsman in the Navy. His doctor used to call him a titanium unicorn in his surpassed their expectations so is doing really good.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You feel your family has gone over this hurdle?

JESSICA BLEIGH: We have. We start together and we took care of each other and we did the best we could and with family and friends we made it. I think her situation was a little bit easier than other friends of ours. I think we're still very fortunate.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I wonder, is it your understanding that there are many families dealing with giving care to wounded warriors?

LORI VAN TILBURG: I think there about 30,000 families dealing with that. There are many people out there that are coping alone that don't know about support. My phone message would be to reach out to us because we are there for you. Their families we are still working with that we start working with twenty years ago. Get connected and get help.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I want to let everyone know that the contact information is going to be on the website and also an event benefiting family caregiver will be held tomorrow at the Veterans Museum and Memorial Center. I've been speaking with Lori and Jessica. Thank you so much for joining us.