Staff Perspective: Military Spouses and Traumatic Brain Injury – Exploring the Stories of Affected Partners and Resources for Caregivers

Staff Perspective: Military Spouses and Traumatic Brain Injury – Exploring the Stories of Affected Partners and Resources for Caregivers

In continued recognition of Brain Injury Awareness Month, this is the second in a series of blog posts examining the stories of military families affected by traumatic brain injury (TBI). Last week’s post reviewed several books on TBI written specifically for children affected by a military-connect parent’s brain injury. This week I will focus on the experience of the injured individual’s spouse by reviewing related research, first-person accounts, and resources available to support partners as they learn to navigate the often-unfamiliar role of caregiver.

The 2014 RAND Study of Military Caregivers reported that the majority of post-9/11 military/Veteran TBI caregivers were spouses, a change from pre-9/11 statistics that identified parents or children as the most likely caregivers for injured Service members. Research focused on military TBI caregivers has identified changing social roles, particularly the difficulty transitioning from the role of a spouse to that of a caregiver, as a primary issue for military couples affected by TBI (Carlozzi et al., 2016). As one spouse described it in a qualitative study of TBI caregivers’ perspectives on quality of life: “Your children get older, and they’re adults, and now you want them to be independent, but you’re still their parent. Whereas with a spouse, I was never a parent before with him. Now I feel like a parent. And that creates tension, because he doesn’t like it” (Kratz et al., 2017).

But, as with many aspects of military life, becoming a caregiver to a spouse who has experienced a TBI is also an opportunity for growth and resilience. While research provides valuable information about caregiver and TBI statistics, there is also a wealth of information that can be learned by sharing in the personal accounts of caregivers and couples, examples of which include:

  • This brief Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center (DVBIC) video and blog entry describe the experience of Wally and Jasmin Blair as they navigated the identification of an undiagnosed combat-related TBI and finding a new normal for their family. This entry highlights the instrumental role that Jasmin played in Wally’s diagnosis and recovery.
  • The Washington Post published an article in 2010 on TBI care at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda (now Walter Reed National Military Medical Center). Accompanying the article online are several interviews with TBI survivors, including a video of Tim and Shannon Maxwell, discussing Tim’s injury and its impact on their family. Shannon is the author of two of the TBI books for children reviewed in last week’s CDP blog.
  • Although not a strictly military family, Lee and Bob Woodruff’s book In an Instant: A Family’s Journey of Love and Healing provides a relevant and compelling description of the couple’s efforts to navigate the aftereffects of Bob’s encounter with an improvised explosive device (IED) while embedded as a journalist with the military in Iraq and his resulting TBI. Lee and Bob also shared their story in a TEDxWomen talk in 2012.

DVBIC, the Defense Health Board, the Henry M. Jackson Foundation and other congressional and federal representatives collaborated to develop a comprehensive Family Caregiver Curriculum to provide a source of information and support for caregivers of service members and veterans with moderate to severe TBI. Comprised of four modules, the curriculum provides information and resources to help caregivers support their injured service member/Veteran and to provide needed self-care during this strenuous process. Regardless of whether they are new to the role of TBI caregiver or have substantial experience in navigating the process, the Family Caregiver Curriculum is an excellent resource for sharing with your clients.

In next week’s blog, we will continue to explore the effects of TBI on military families by highlighting first-hand accounts from Service members and Veterans, detailing their experience of TBI and their paths to recovery.

Staff Perspective: Military Children and Traumatic Brain Injury - Books to Help Parents

The opinions in CDP Staff Perspective blogs are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Science or the Department of Defense.

Jennifer M. Phillips, Ph.D., is the Assistant Director for Research and Evaluation for the Center for Deployment Psychology at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences at Bethesda, Maryland.