Taking Care of Yourself During Times of Stress and Grief

Woman relaxing at home

Everybody has periods of difficulty, when stress and grief build up and make everything seem harder. Caring about someone in the military can add another layer of stress and grief. You may be concerned about your service member’s health and safety when you are apart. You may miss being together. When stress doesn’t let up, it can affect your overall well-being.

It’s important to acknowledge your stress or grief so you can take steps to address it. Taking care of your emotional well-being will keep you strong for your service member and the other people you love.

How to overcome stress

It’s easy to become overwhelmed by things outside our control, like a service member’s deployment. A good first step is to focus on what you can control.

Sometimes we can’t do anything to change a situation and the only option is to learn to accept it. When you recognize the signs of anxiety or stress in yourself, try the following:

  • Take a break. Turn off the news, put down your phone, stop what you’re doing.
  • Breathe deeply. Sit still or lie down. Place one hand on your stomach and the other hand over your heart. Inhale slowly through your nose until you feel your stomach rise. Hold your breath for a moment, then exhale slowly through your mouth while your stomach falls.
  • Take a brisk walk. The combination of physical activity and fresh air can be a powerful stress reducer.

Practice self-care every day

Practicing healthy habits can improve overall well-being. Be sure to:

  • Eat a healthy diet. Avoid processed foods and drink plenty of water.
  • Get enough sleep. Most adults need seven or more hours of sleep a night. If you have trouble sleeping, make sure your room is cool and dark. Turn your phone and television off before getting into bed. Get out of bed first thing upon waking, and don’t get back in until you’re ready for sleep.
  • Exercise regularly. Do something you enjoy, like running, dancing or shooting hoops. Whatever you do, aim for 30 minutes of moderate activity at least five times per week.

Self-care resources

Military OneSource offers free tools and resources to help service members and their families manage stress.

  • Chill Drills: are audio tracks developed to help service members and their families relax and manage stress. By doing these drills regularly, you can lower your blood pressure and reduce the level of stress hormones in your body. Download the free app today and take Chill Drills with you on the go.

    Find the following resources and more on the Recommended Wellness Apps page.
  • Breathe2Relax: This app offers deep-breathing techniques to relax and unwind. Use it on the go to tap into your breathing.
  • Virtual Hope Box: This app includes personalized tools to help you cope, relax, avoid distractions and connect to others. There’s plenty here to help you learn how to handle stress and anxiety during self-care breaks.

The Defense Health Agency also recommends the following podcast:

  • Military Meditation Coach: This podcast offers relaxation exercises and tips to keep your mental health on track. Tune in during your self-care breaks to relax and clear your mind.
  • For more ideas on practicing self-care, check out these articles on Military OneSource:

    If larger issues outside of your control, such as national or world events, bring you stress, chances are your service member is affected by them, too. Check in to see if your service member needs your support. And continue to take care of yourself, because when you give yourself the gift of self-care, your loved ones benefit as well.

    Download the Chill Drills by Military OneSource app.

    Keep calmness close by with simple audio drills designed for the military community to help manage stress.


Wounded Warrior Programs

two disabled veterans talking

The military provides specialized wounded warrior programs designed to help severely ill and injured service members transition back to duty or civilian life. Each service branch has its own program. While the programs do not focus on medical issues, they do help service members and their medical teams develop a comprehensive recovery plan that addresses specific rehabilitation and recovery goals.

Wounded warrior program eligibility

Wounded warrior programs are not solely exclusive to service members with combat injuries. They also assist:

  • Service members who are battling serious illnesses
  • Service members who have been injured in accidents and require long term care

Types of support wounded warrior programs provide

Wounded warrior programs provide non-medical support that is tailored to fit the service member’s needs. This support spans from something as simple as helping service members understand their benefits to assisting them with their specialized transportation needs. The program provides services that address:

  • Pay and personnel issues
  • Invitational travel orders
  • Lodging and housing adaptations
  • Child and youth care arrangements
  • Transportation needs
  • Legal and guardianship issues
  • Education and training benefits
  • Respite care
  • Traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress support services

How to enroll in the wounded warrior program

Enrollment into the wounded warrior program varies per branch. Some service branches allow wounded warriors to self-refer into the program. Other service branches require that a medical officer make a program enrollment request on behalf of the service member. Here is a contact list for the various wounded warrior programs:

  • Army: In order to be considered eligible for entry into the Warrior Care and Transition Program, soldiers must meet the entry criteria for their component. For more information and assistance, contact the Army Wounded Warrior Call Center at 877-393-9058, DSN 312-221-9113.
  • Marine Corps: The parent command, medical officer, medical case manager or Wounded Warrior Regiment detachment officer-in-charge must initiate the request on behalf of the service member. For more information on the referral process, contact the Wounded Warrior Regiment call center at 877-487-6299.
  • Navy Wounded Warrior: Sailors and Coast Guardsmen may self-refer to the program or be referred by a family member, their command leadership, or their medical team. For questions on enrollment eligibility, contact the Navy Wounded Warrior call center at 855-NAVY-WWP or 855-628-9997, or use the contact links provided on the website.
  • Air Force: Anyone can refer an airman into the Air Force Wounded Warrior program. Contact the AFW2 program office at 800-581-9437 or use the direct email links provided on the website.
  • Special Operations Command Warrior Care Program: USSOCOM WCP was established in 2005 to provide support to special operations forces wounded, ill, or injured service members and their families after life changing events to help them navigate through recovery, rehabilitation, and reintegration. For more information, call 877-672-3039 or 813-826-8888.

For additional information and resources including free specialty consultation services, visit the Military OneSource Wounded Warrior webpage. You can also contact a Military OneSource consultant 24/7/365, by calling 800-342-9647, using OCONUS dialing options, or scheduling a live chat.

When Your Spouse Has a Traumatic Brain Injury

Health specialist points out areas of magnetic activity in a brain displayed on a monitor.

As a spouse of a service member who has suffered a traumatic brain injury, or TBI, you may be experiencing a range of emotions. It is important to allow yourself to feel every emotion that surfaces and attend to your own needs. Here are some strategies to consider as you prepare to take on your new role as a caregiver to your spouse.

After the injury

Your spouse may spend a few weeks and months in the hospital, which could be challenging for the two of you. In this phase of recovery, it may be helpful to:

  • Gather information. Learn everything you can about your spouse’s injury so that you can compare notes with doctors and other health professionals. Ask questions about your spouse’s treatment program and take stock of the various medical care providers that you interact with during your hospital stay.
  • Pace yourself. Don’t spend all your emotional energy in one place because a brain injury requires long-term care. Save your strength for the long haul.
  • Understand your spouse’s treatment program. Your spouse’s team of medical care providers will develop an individualized plan to treat his or her injury, which could require multiple hours of in-patient therapy per day.
  • Be understanding. Don’t take your spouse’s hostile outbursts personally. Some TBI patients behave angrily toward their caretakers in the first few days and weeks of recovery. This behavior is a result of the injury and not a personal attack.
  • Get help. Let your family and friends help you with the day-to-day stuff like taking care of your children, preparing meals and other chores. Make sure you get plenty of rest and eat healthy meals. If you need assistance, contact a Military OneSource consultant who will put you in touch with a trained counselor in your area. Consultants are available 24/7/365. Call 800-342-9647, use OCONUS dialing options, or schedule a live chat.

Understanding the challenges of TBI

Traumatic brain injuries vary from patient to patient. Some people experience headaches, seizures, dizziness, memory problems and difficulty focusing. Others symptoms include:

  • Chronic fatigue. Rehabilitation consumes a lot of energy. Simple tasks may be exhausting for your spouse, and the brain injury may be disrupting his or her sleep cycle.
  • Anger. Some patients may seem angry or frustrated because they can’t do simple tasks, remember things or focus on a project. Try to be patient.
  • Too much emotion. It may be difficult for your spouse to control his or her emotions. Help your spouse avoid emotional triggers by turning off the TV or radio during conversations. Allow only a few family and friends to visit at one time.
  • Insensitivity. Brain injury patients tend to make inappropriate statements in social situations. You can help your spouse by speaking about your feelings directly instead of using nonverbal cues.
  • Loss of focus. Your spouse may have difficulty organizing his or her thoughts. You can troubleshoot this issue by helping your spouse establish routines.

Taking care of your spouse at home

Your spouse will endure a long-term recovery process. Although coming home from the hospital is a step towards health, there will still be some challenges ahead. You might try these tips:

  • Adjust to changing roles. If you are trying to hold down a job while performing the bulk of the household duties, you might become overwhelmed. Be sure to ask for help. Consider going to couples counseling so that you and your spouse can adjust to changing roles.
  • Understand your spouse’s changes. Brain injury patients can look normal, but still exhibit emotional and behavioral symptoms that take longer to heal.
  • Let your spouse rest. Brain injury patients tire easily. Schedule outings in the morning when your spouse is rested and allow for naps during the day.
  • Treat your spouse normally. Giving your spouse some of the duties he or she had prior to going to the hospital will make him or her feel useful. Increase these duties over time as your spouse recovers.
  • Remember what you have together. As you and your spouse adjust to the “new normal,” take time to nurture your relationship: remind each other of what you most admire in each other, or look through photos of special memories.
  • Find a TBI survivors group. Meeting other couples in similar situations can be very helpful. Connect with other families by attending a TBI survivors group.

For more information about TBI, visit the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury website. They offer a variety of Family & Caregiver resources, including a comprehensive downloadable caregiver’s guide. Traumatic Brain Injury: A Guide for Caregivers of Service Members and Veterans includes:

  • Comprehensive lists of medical terms and diagrams
  • Charts to help keep track of medical providers and medications
  • Worksheets to help coordinate caregivers and tasks
  • Helpful suggestions about what kinds of behavior to expect and how best to respond
  • Encouraging stories from other caregivers, and more.

When your spouse suffers a traumatic brain injury, your life will be impacted in ways you didn’t expect. Recovery can be challenging, as it requires large doses of patience and understanding. By educating yourself on TBI and using the tips listed in this article, you can better navigate through this phase of your lives and adjust to your new normal.

Special Education Programs and Resources for Military Families

Students surrounding teacher

A wide range of programs and services are available for military family members with special needs and their caregivers. Here is a sampling of the various resources and tools available to you through the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs.

Your OSEP point of contact for special education programs

Connect directly with your state’s OSEP point of contact for questions related to special education services. This list can also be useful for families planning an upcoming move to a new state. Be sure to start by contacting the customer service point of contact, who will connect you with the person who can answer your specific questions.

If you’re still not sure who to contact, you can start by contacting your local EFMP Family Support staff or reaching out to an EFMP Resources, Options and Consultations, or EFMP ROC, consultant who can point you in the right direction.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

The Individuals With Disabilities Education Act website offers a lot of information to help students, parents, educators and service providers gain a better understanding of the act and how it applies to early intervention and school-age services in Parts C and B, respectively.

On the IDEA site, you can gather information and resources to help further guide you through special education programs, especially grant-funded free public education for students through age 21, as well as early intervention services for toddlers and infants through age 2.

Plus, you can search for specific toolkits or explore an IDEA-based resource library stored within an easily accessible online database at the IDEAs That Work website.

Blogs and webinars speak to families like yours

The Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services Blog has stories and insights from other families with special needs who have perhaps experienced struggles and successes similar to yours. The blog also features interviews by industry specialists and policymakers and is a must-read for any caregiver of individuals with special needs.

The Military Families Learning Network also hosts regular live webinars discussing everything from finances to federal employment opportunities for the military community. For military families with special needs, they also have resources concerning early intervention strategies. Head over to the MFLN website to watch prerecorded webinars and listen to podcasts made specifically to help families like yours.

Guide helps students with disabilities transition after high school

In May 2017, OSEP updated A Transition Guide to Postsecondary Education and Employment for Students and Youth With Disabilities, which helps children with special needs and their families prepare for life after high school. In this guide, you can find transition-specific planning and services, as well as potential education and employment options for your child.

These resources are just the start of what OSEP can offer you and your child with special needs, so you can make sure they start off with every advantage and succeed in school and in life. Remember, too, that if you need help figuring out the IDEA resources or recommendations on which program is right for your child, your local EFMP Family Support staff and Military OneSource education consultants are happy to help however we can.

Caregivers – Benefits

Caregiving comes with its own expenses – some anticipated and others not. As a service member, you and your family qualify for numerous benefits that may help relieve some of the financial stress of caregiving. While Military OneSource does not provide direct health care services, it does offer non-medical counseling and information about health care services and benefits.

TRICARE home health benefits

  • Your loved one may be eligible to receive home health care benefits if he or she has TRICARE.
  • The program has information to help you determine the benefits for which your loved one may be eligible.

Medicare and Medicaid programs

If your loved one meets eligibility requirements for Medicare or Medicaid, coverage may be available for medical costs, transportation, respite care, home modifications and equipment expenses.

Financial counseling

Military relief societies

  • Each service has a private, nonprofit organization that assists families in times of need.
  • Assistance may include emergency transportation; help with medical bills, child care expenses, food, rent, utilities and other household bills; vehicle repair; and family emergency assistance.
  • For more information on relief societies, contact the Army Emergency Relief, the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society or the Air Force Aid Society.

Mobility assistance

Sometimes a major injury or illness can affect mobility. If you or your loved one are facing new physical challenges, be sure to check out these resources:

  • Office of Disability Employment Policy: Access all of the federal government’s disability-related information and resources.
  • VA Home Loans: These loans and grants are available to adapt the homes of disabled veterans or help them buy accessible homes.
  • Homes for Our Troops, Inc.: This privately funded nonprofit builds specially adapted homes for severely injured veterans nationwide.
  • Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes: This site helps wheelchair-bound or blind veterans can receive financial assistance to buy homes that accommodate their disabilities.
  • AbleData: This federally funded project provides information on assistive technology and rehabilitative equipment sources worldwide.
  • National Resource Center on Supportive Housing and Home Modification: This nonprofit provides helpful advice and links, including state-by-state information.

Assistive devices

Semper Fi Fund

The Semper Fi Fund provides immediate financial assistance and lifetime support to post-9/11 wounded, critically ill and injured service members and their families, ensuring that they have the resources they need during their recovery and transition back to their communities.

Military Heroes Fund Emergency Financial Assistance

The Military Heroes Fund, an initiative of the PenFed Foundation, provides wounded veterans, military families and caregivers with financial assistance and support that cannot be supported by government agencies. The MHF has two components:

  • Emergency Financial Assistance for Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation Enduring Freedom wounded warriors and their families facing short-term financial difficulties.
  • Family and Caregiver Transition Support including child care support for families of wounded OIF/OEF veterans while receiving outpatient care; short-term training or education expenses for job certification, licensure requirements and course materials; and in-home health care for injured veterans to support caregiver respite needs.

USA Cares Warrior Treatment Today

USA Cares Warrior Treatment Today pays essential household bills while a wounded service member or veteran is attending residential treatment for a traumatic brain injury or PTSD.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, contact the Military Crisis Line at 800-273-8255, then press 1, or access online chat by texting to 838255.

How to Deal with Stress as a Caregiver

Caregiver support group cuts a cake at a monthly forum.

It’s hard to avoid stress when you’re caring for a loved one with a serious injury or an ongoing wound or illness. Caregiving is an important job that can be extremely demanding. Remember, as a caregiver, managing your stress is one of the best ways to ensure you’re able to stay strong and resilient, and care for your loved one. Pay attention to your body and your moods and find time for yourself. You need it and you deserve it.

Cope and adapt with COVID Coach

This app can ease pandemic-related stress. It’s free, secure and recommended by the Department of Defense.

Preventing compassion fatigue

Over time, the stress of caring for another person can cause something called “compassion fatigue.” This is a common condition that can make you feel irritable, isolated, depressed, angry or anxious. It can even disturb your sleep and impair your judgment. Compassion fatigue can come on suddenly or build gradually over time, so it’s important to check in with yourself regularly to note how you are feeling. MoodHacker is a resilience tool that helps you track, understand and improve your mood. Since relationships and stress often drive our level of satisfaction in life, this mobile solution can get you headed in the right direction.

Left untreated, compassion fatigue can lead to burnout and other conditions that may not go away on their own.

Build a support network

As a caregiver, having people you can count on when times get tough and you need backup can be invaluable. Here are a few tips for building a strong support network:

  • Stay connected to your community. Your community can be your installation, neighborhood, religious community, co-workers or even just a group of close friends. This community can give you a built-in network of local support when you need it most.
  • Join a support group. When you have struggles, sharing them with people who are in a similar situation can help you feel less isolated. People who understand may also be able to share new ideas and connect you with additional resources. The Peer 2 Peer Forum also provides the opportunity for caregivers to share knowledge, expertise, resources and ongoing support.
  • Seek out counseling. Talking with someone can sometimes help problems seem smaller and more manageable. Military OneSource offers confidential non-medical counseling — at no cost to you — in person, over the phone, by video or online.
  • Be there for others. Reach out to people in similar situations. A sympathetic ear can work wonders to relieve stress, and you can develop relationships that allow you to lean on each other.

Managing stress

The key to resilience amidst the challenges of caregiving is to be mindful of your own emotional and physical health.

  • Exercise and eat a balanced diet. Physical strength and health directly relate to your mental and emotional health. Connect with real-live coaching experts right on your phone or tablet with this resilience tool, CoachHub. Track and set goals from exercise and nutrition to stress reduction.
  • Take a few moments each day just for you. Make it a priority to do something just for you as often as you can. Try this simple Chill Drill designed by a therapist specializing in working with service members and their families to help reverse the symptoms of stress.
  • Resist feelings of guilt. If taking time for yourself sparks feelings of guilt, remind yourself that you can only provide care when you’re doing well yourself.
  • Say “yes” when someone offers assistance. Don’t be shy about accepting help. Allow others to feel good about supporting you and your loved one. Accepting help is an act of strength, not weakness.
  • Embrace a hobby. Doing something you love like painting, hiking, swimming or scrapbooking — no matter how little time you can spend — boosts your feelings of well-being.

You may feel that whatever stress or difficulty you are going through isn’t important compared to the struggles of your loved one; however, caring for yourself is the first step providing the support your loved one needs in the days to come.

Free and confidential non-medical counseling is available through Military OneSource. Call 800-342-9647 at any time. OCONUS/International? Click here for calling options. If you need immediate help or are experiencing a crisis, contact the Military Crisis Line (1-800-273-8255 and Press 1).

Caregiver Support Resources for You and Your Loved One

Woman talking to child

When you are the caregiver of a loved one with special needs or a life-changing illness or injury, each day can bring new questions and new situations. So, it’s important that you have access to the resources and support you need — not only for your loved one, but also for you.

Contact Military OneSource 24/7.

You can get personalized help 365 days a year by telephone and online.

Overseas? See OCONUS calling options.

Prefer to live chat? Start now.

Your first stop in seeking assistance is your installation Exceptional Family Member Program, or EFMP, Family Support staff. Family support staff can point you in the right direction of local services you may require as well as walk you through the resources available to you at your installation.

Military OneSource can assist you in connecting with EFMP Family Support staff and offers many caregiver support resources tailored to your specific needs. You can find support services, consultations, confidential non-medical counseling and access to a variety of helpful products:

  • A special needs consultant can be accessed through Military OneSource Exceptional Family Member Program Resources, Options and Consultations, or EFMP ROC. Consultants are available by phone or video to help you navigate the daily medical and educational needs of your family member or loved one, and connect you with military and community-based support. You can schedule appointments 24/7 by live chat or calling 800-342-9647.
  • Non-medical counseling – Being a caregiver is hard work. If you are feeling stressed, you can talk with someone who can support you as you navigate the difficulties of caregiving.
  • Peer support – The person who best understands a caregiver has been one. Get and stay connected with other caregivers like you.
    • Attend monthly PEER forums, sponsored by the Department of Defense, on or near a military installation. If you don’t live near an installation, register for a virtual forum on your computer, phone or mobile device.
    • Connect with other caregivers or look for inspiration on the Blog Brigade.
  • Financial counseling – Caring for a loved one may deliver unexpected costs. Save yourself time, energy and worry by having a spending plan that leaves room for the unexpected. Military OneSource offers financial counseling in person, by phone or via video chat. Call 800-342-9647 or click financial counseling.
  • Health and wellness – It can be easy to forget about your own needs when caring for a loved one, but it’s important to take care of your own health. Free, confidential health and wellness coaching is available via phone, online chat or video session. Call 800-342-9647 or click health to find out more.
  • Products and downloads – On Military OneSource, you’ll find many helpful booklets, CDs, DVDs and articles that you can have shipped to your door for free. You’ll also find useful downloads including:
    • The Keeping It All Together notebook to organize your wounded warrior’s treatment and recovery plans in one place.
    • Adult, child and elder care toolkits from the Special Care Organizational Record for an easy way to track progress and medical information.

Being a caregiver is one of the most important roles you can take on, but you don’t have to do it alone. Use caregiver support from Military OneSource to help lighten your load and take better care of yourself.

Wounded Warrior Specialty Consultations: Health Care, Benefits and More

Doctor fixing injured knee

Military OneSource provides wounded warrior specialty consultation services to help eligible wounded, ill or injured service members, veterans and their families get immediate assistance for issues related to health care, resources, facilities and benefits.

What we do and who is eligible for consultation services

Consultations aren’t limited to just those service members with combat injuries or a military disability. Service members and veterans injured in accidents or battling serious illnesses are also eligible. Consultants are available to help with:

  • Questions about health care and benefits
  • Getting additional support
  • Reporting problems with military facilities
  • Support for non-medical issues like transportation needs, legal issues, respite care and much more

Contact Military OneSource 24/7.

You can get personalized help 365 days a year by telephone and online.

Overseas? See OCONUS calling options.

Prefer to live chat? Start now.

Working with your service branch and the Department of Veterans Affairs

Each service branch operates a wounded warrior program to help service members and their families with non-medical issues associated with transitioning back to duty or civilian life. Military OneSource specialty consultants work with these programs and the Department of Veterans Affairs to quickly connect you to the resources you need. Your eligibility to use the service doesn’t end when you leave a military treatment facility.

Response timelines after your call

Within an hour of your call, consultants will refer you to the right resources at the VA or the wounded warrior program specific to your service. Within 96 hours of calling, you will have a plan that addresses your issue. You’ll also have a personal consultant who will guide you through the entire process, no matter how complex.

What types of support do wounded warrior programs provide?

The wounded warrior programs work with the service member and his or her medical team to develop a comprehensive plan that addresses specific recovery, rehabilitation and reintegration goals. Typical non-medical support may include all these services and more:

  • Pay and personnel issues
  • Invitational travel orders
  • Lodging and housing adaptations
  • Child and youth care arrangements
  • Transportation needs
  • Legal and guardianship issues
  • Education and training benefits
  • Respite care
  • Traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress support services

More about wounded warrior programs and services

The military’s wounded warrior programs provide help and support for severely wounded, ill and injured service members, veterans and their families. Eligibility for wounded warrior benefits isn’t limited to those with combat injuries. Other eligible military members include:

  • Service members battling serious illnesses
  • Service members injured in accidents and requiring long-term care

Support doesn’t stop just because the service member is no longer under military care. Wounded warrior programs provide lifetime support, even after the service member is discharged from a military treatment facility.

Additional resources for caregivers

Caregivers of wounded warriors can get additional support from Military OneSource beyond specialty consultations including: Personalized Experiences, Engagement and Resources — or PEER — forums, as well as webinars, caregiver-related events and specialized resources.

Also, check out Military OneSource’s wounded warrior page for information about independent living, caregiver support issues, living with a disability, and links to VA and TRICARE.

Military OneSource has more information about wounded warrior programs. If you or a family member is a wounded warrior who needs help understanding your benefits, contact Military OneSource for a free specialty consultation at 800-342-9647.