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Becoming a Caregiver for a Wounded, Ill or Injured Service Member

Wife’s hand on husbands back.

When your spouse or loved one suffers a severe injury or debilitating illness, it can feel as if your entire world has been turned upside down — and the goals and plans you had for yourself, your marriage and your family go on hold.

Your role is changing, and you’re about to become part of your loved one’s caregiving and recovery team. Remember, you have help and resources available. Learn all you can and reach out for all the support there for you.

Becoming an active member of the recovery team

Educate yourself. As a caretaker, you are an extremely important part of your loved one’s recovery team. You know them better than any doctor or nurse, and may notice things they do not. As a key advocate for your loved one’s health, educating yourself about their condition will enable you to ask health care providers the right questions and help you anticipate your loved one’s needs.

Get organized about care and treatment. Military OneSource’s Keeping It All Together notebook is a helpful way to organize your wounded warrior’s treatment and recovery in one place. Read about other resources to help here.

Watch for depression or combat stress. While these are often symptoms of a physical injury and/or illness, they have the potential to become a longer-term mental health concern. You may notice angry outbursts, being easily startled, loss of confidence, loss of interest in life, mounting sadness, and risky behavior — and may take weeks or months to surface. Be sure to communicate all worrisome behavior to your loved one’s doctor.

Taking care of yourself and your children

Caring for you. Allow yourself time to accept the changes in your life and relationship; be aware of the emotional and physical strains of caregiving. Grief, anxiety, isolation, fear, anger and even guilt are all common responses to this life change. While you may be consumed with helping your loved one, don’t forget your well-being is also an important part of their recovery. If you take care of yourself, you are better able to care for them. Connecting with other caregivers can provide much-needed support as well as some insight into ways to live with your situation. The Military Caregiver PEER Forum Initiative offers the opportunity for caregivers to share knowledge, expertise, resources and ongoing support. Read more on Military OneSource about caregiver stress and find caregiver resources.

Caring for your children. Helping children cope with a parent’s wound, injury or illness often depends on the child’s age and ability to understand the situation. How a child reacts to this “new normal” will vary, but there are a few strategies you can use to help them cope:

  • Tell your child that it’s normal to feel angry or sad.
  • Encourage your child to express his or her feelings through drawing, playing or writing. But don’t force your child to talk about feelings.
  • Maintain routines. Even if your child is staying with a friend or adult while you are helping your injured service member, write down your child’s routines and ask the caregiver to follow them.
  • When your child wants to talk, give them your full attention.

Finally, remember that Military OneSource and Child and Youth Behavioral Military Family and Life Counselors are available to help you and your children with non-medical counseling. Contact Military OneSource counselors through Confidential Help on this website. For children and youth, ask if there are counselors at these locations near you:

Remember, becoming a caregiver presents a unique set of challenges. It isn’t easy, but when you reach out for the right help and the right resources, you can make it work — for yourself, for your children, and your loved one.

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