Not everyone who serves in the military wears a uniform.
Some dress like you and me. And their battlefield is not a far-off territory, but the cities and suburbs we all call home. They are the friends and family of wounded service members.
Caregivers are a forgotten branch of our modern military. They tend to the mental and physical wounds of those who return from war, helping them get the benefits they deserve and bridging the gap between what doctors and nurses can give and what veterans need.
For the parents, spouses and friends of wounded service members, the price can be high.
A 2009 study by CNA's Center for Naval Analyses found that seriously wounded, ill and injured service members need a caregiver for an average of 19 months. In addition, it found that three out of four caregivers had to quit or take time off from work or school to provide this support.
This year, the Pentagon Federal Credit Union Foundation (PenFed Foundation) decided to honor military caregivers at our Eighth Annual Night of Heroes Gala in Washington, D.C., later this month. We asked a few of these "heroes at home" to submit videos on YouTube to tell their stories.
What they told us was moving. A woman studying for her doctorate in England leaves school behind, and helps her future husband recover from a severe injury to the face. After their son's spinal cord is fractured by a bullet, a couple dedicate their lives to caring for him around the clock. A mother leaves her family and friends behind in Chicago to care for her injured son in Maryland.
Their stories are not unique.
A 2010 study by the United Health Foundation and the National Alliance for Caregiving found that military caregivers dealt with conditions such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, diabetes and paralysis or spinal cord injury.
Many of these conditions require round-the-clock care and assistance with such basic needs as dressing, bathing and eating. This help may be needed for months, years or, in some cases, indefinitely.
While Americans have always had to care for wounded veterans, the scale and severity of some of these injuries is new. Without recent advances in emergency medicine and the professionalism of our military's doctors and nurses, many of these service members would have died on the battlefield.
Now that they have returned home, we need to complete the mission. Our elected leaders need to make sure that there are programs to give caregivers the support they need. And we all need to help the caregivers we know.
They may not wear a uniform, but our military depends on them.
To learn more about the Eighth Annual Night of Heroes Gala, including sponsorship, or to purchase tickets, click here.
The foundation is holding an online auction through May 24 as part of its black-tie Eighth Annual Night of Heroes Gala. All proceeds go toward the foundation and its programs supporting military personnel and their families.
Christopher Flynn is president and CEO of the PenFed Foundation, a nationally recognized nonprofit organization working to meet the unmet needs of military personnel and their families. The Pentagon Federal Credit Union covers all labor expenses for the foundation so every dollar donated goes directly to supporting its programs.
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