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Super (Caregiver) Woman

saritajason

We are grateful for women like Sarita, who stand strong beside their warriors and fellow caregivers.

When Sarita met Jason, little did she know that her love for him would take her on a very unexpected journey. But it ended up being a path that allowed her to answer the call to help wounded warrior caregivers, because she would become one herself.

Sarita Pettus-Wakefield met Jason Wakefield and developed a long distance relationship with him, via email, while he was deployed. Jason was a staff sergeant in the Air Force and Sarita was an air traffic controller trainee. They both loved airplanes and soon they fell in love with each other.

And then things began to change.

Jason deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq and suffered exposure to smoke and burning trash and battled a parasite for two years. (He still deals with ongoing asthma and gastrointestinal issues.)

While in Iraq, he injured his ankle and received a minor TBI from a mortar blast. Then came a head-on car collision in Afghanistan, which resulted in another TBI. Jason also battled anxiety disorder and severe PTSD as a result of his combat experiences. But Sarita’s challenges were just beginning.

One week after they got engaged, the true nature and extent of his injuries came crashing in, literally. He was in a severe car wreck that was related to his PTSD. The accident resulted in severe leg injuries and several surgeries. In response, Sarita tried to be the super-perfect everything – fiancee’, caregiver, career woman and grad student. She did all this while juggling regular doctor appointments for Jason and dealing with the effects of his ongoing anxiety and PTSD. She tried to keep everything running smoothly, to make life easier for Jason. It all became too much for her to handle.

One day, she happened to be watching TV and saw an interview with Cheryl Gansner, program coordinator for Operation Homefront’s Hearts of Valor program and Elizabeth Dole Fellow. “Cheryl was like an angel and I literally sat there crying like a total nut at the TV…so happy and relieved that there was help out there!” said Sarita.

After watching the program, she realized that if she tried to do too much, she was no good for anyone. So she became a member of Hearts of Valor for support, and she, and Jason, decided to simplify things. They would both focus on school. And they eventually got married too. “I feel really happy, relaxed, and settled into my role of helping my husband.  We spend two days a week at the VA on average and one day a week with the Brain Center so we stay busy,” said Sarita.

As a member of Hearts of Valor, Sarita loved meeting fellow caregivers who understood that, while things may look great from the outside, invisible wounds are no less real and can make life complicated. It was so nice “to meet other women in my area to whom I could say terms like PTSD or TBI without getting a pity or confused look,” said Sarita.

She also decided to volunteer to lead a support group for Hearts of Valor caregivers. “Jason and I went through a really rough time trying to find help and I wanted to help ease some of the stressors that other caregivers go through and help them navigate how and where to get help,” she said. She’s been leading the group for two years. The caregivers really enjoy the camaraderie of meeting with other women. “My group opts for art projects, like painting and pottery, and I think art ‘therapy’ is helping all of us relax. Group members reach out to each other… and I see pics of them hanging out with each other (on Facebook) which totally makes me smile!! We are learning to belly dance at this month’s meeting. I have had women come to support groups in tears and leave laughing. Support groups work!”

We are grateful for women like Sarita, who stand strong beside their warriors and fellow caregivers.

Hearts of Valor is a network of people caring for wounded, ill or injured service members, created and maintained by Operation Homefront. To find out more about how you can answer the call and help military, veteran and wounded warrior families, visit www.operationhomefront.net/answerthecall .

harveyThough they were unable to wear a military uniform themselves, Ken and Ruth have always deeply admired the valiant men and women who serve our country. So they decided to answer the call in the best way they could.

After the events of September 11, 2001, Ken and Ruth Harvey realized that the rights, freedoms, and safety—something they had taken for granted—were not guaranteed. The couple knew that the attacks would trigger a conflict that would require our American service men and women to fight beyond our shores to secure our nation’s safety. Ken and Ruth admired those who sacrificed so much for their fellow countrymen.

Ken and Ruth also worried about the health and wellbeing of service members and veterans who have returned from overseas service. ”You’d assume that the soldiers who are wounded or returning with PTSD would be given more post-action care. While there is a structure in place, it’s not at the level that we would expect,” Ken said. Ruth maintains that Operation Homefront is addressing the problem in a positive, helpful way. “For every dollar we give most of it is going back to military families, so that’s great,” Ruth said.

The Harvey’s strong desire to support the military inspired them to search for a nonprofit that would allow them to make a difference in the lives of service members and their families. Ken and Ruth researched military nonprofits from a leading charity rating agency, and as a result, they chose to give to Operation Homefront.

“Operation Homefront takes resources from a person or a company and channels it to the highest need. It’s hard to imagine a more efficient organization getting that done,” Ken said. One of his goals was to ensure that his money would truly make a difference in the lives of military service members, wounded warriors, veterans, and their families.

Vets-Day_blog_icontactRuth and Ken give to Operation Homefront programs, such as Homes on the Homefront, because they want to see the lives of military families transformed, and the couple wants to be part of that impact. “Operation Homefront is giving families the tools they need to help them manage their finances. Operation Homefront is teaching them skills, and it’s different than charity; it’s trying to create something that’s going to last throughout their lifetimes,” said Ken.

Operation Homefront would not exist if it weren’t for donors like Ruth and Ken. They allow us to help military families in their hour of need. You too can make a difference and answer the call, in lots of ways, to support military, veteran and wounded warrior families. Find out more at www.operationhomefront.net/answerthecall .

Strobach-operation-homefrontThere are many reasons Adam Strobach was motivated to leave his small-town home in Wisconsin and answer the call to join the Army —no jobs in his small hometown, a desire to see the world, and a feeling of gratitude to his country.

His journey began when the Army sent Adam to Fort Bragg, N.C., where he met his wife Katey—a self-professed military brat. The two married and had a son. Life was good. Like any military family, they endured time apart as Adam completed two deployments to Iraq.

During his last deployment in 2013, Adam was injured. The couple’s second son was born in January 2013, and Adam was medically discharged from the Army a month later. As Adam sought to recover from his injuries, the family learned to adjust to their new existence.

During his transition, Adam was told that the wait time for his benefits to arrive would be about 60 days. The wait time stretched from 60 days to three, four, five, and then six months. Because the family did not have enough savings and no income, they were unable to live on their own. Sadly, Adam, Katey, and their two sons had to move into the basement of Adam’s brother.

The couple gave the American Legion power of attorney to help them navigate the VA benefits process, and an Army Wounded Warrior (AW2) advocate was assigned to Adam and Katey. In the meantime, the family fell farther behind on their monthly bills.

Katey and Adam’s AW2 told them to submit an application to Operation Homefront for financial assistance. While the couple initially requested help to pay their car loans and insurance they ended up getting money to help with buying groceries, critical baby needs, and money for travel. This freed up money to help cover their other bills.

Katey states, “I could not believe how quickly the cards came. The gift cards arrived the next day after we were approved. It was super fast.” This was really helpful and came when it was really needed.”

The VA benefits have started; and while the family is still playing catchup, they hope to be on track by tax season.

Katey and Adam are optimistic about the future. Katey shared some good news: “We are able to pay our current bills and are paying on past due balances. Adam has a job offer and reference from one of his former military sergeants…which will help the family finances even more.”

vets-day_blog_thumbOperation Homefront is honored to help military families, like the Strobach family, get through unexpected tough times. Learn more about how anyone can answer the call and help Operation Homefront serve our veteran and military families at www.operationhomefront.net/answerthecall .

sean grimes photo 3For Sean Grimes, life started in a way that was similar to most American kids. He grew up in the heartland of Bloomingdale, Ill. After high school, he got a job, and moved out into his own apartment.

Then Sept 11, 2001 happened. Sean was so deeply affected by this tragedy that he joined the Marines in November and by December, Sean was in boot camp. Sean wanted to be a Marine because he believed the Marines were “the best and the hardest of the military branches.” His family was not thrilled with his decision even though two uncles and a grandfather were former Marines. But Sean persevered.

After boot camp, Sean went to Japan for three and a half years and then returned to Camp Pendleton before getting out in 2005. In 2007, Sean was recalled to active duty and sent to Camp Lejeune. He then deployed to Iraq for almost a year. Sean was discharged in March 2008.

For almost a year, Sean tried to adjust to civilian life, but he struggled. In early 2009, he admitted himself into a nearby PTSD clinic. That same year he thought he had a heart attack. Although the symptoms were close, in reality Sean was diagnosed with pericarditis. He spent seven days in the hospital.

A few months later, Sean entered college, working full time as he attended classes and studied. He received his Bachelor’s Degree in October 2011. He began working towards his Master’s degree, but Sean was hit by something unexpected.

sean grimes photo 1Headaches began to plague Sean daily. He went to the doctor and discovered that he had a tumor on his brain and stage one cancer. A series of intricate surgeries removed forty percent of the tumor.

In his usual style, Sean continued to persevere through the disease and continued working but he couldn’t keep up. By May of 2014, Sean found himself in a financial dilemma. Although he received VA disability and worked, monthly bills plus the extra gas needed to drive to his medical appointments for cancer and PTSD treatments left him without any extra money. While he was making it, he had no room for anything to go wrong.

Because of the extra wear and tear on his vehicle, the tires on Sean’s vehicle wore out and needed to be replaced…soon. He was advised by a mechanic that the car was unsafe to drive. Sean didn’t have the money.

“Normally I would not ask for help, but I really needed some assistance,” Sean said. He decided to apply for assistance from Operation Homefront. Soon, his tires were replaced and he was able to safely drive to work, school, and medical appointments.

“Being a Marine, I don’t like to ask for help, but I am glad that there are programs like Operation Homefront out there for veterans. It is heartwarming to know that (Operation Homefront) was there for me. I am very grateful.”

Sean is back on track to completing his Master’s degree. Unfortunately, one month after Operation Homefront assisted Sean, he was laid off from his job. But in his typical style, he will not give up. Sean continues to look for a job and is receiving treatment for his PTSD and brain cancer.

He is optimistic about his future: “I have a good head on my shoulders, my fiancé has moved in with me, I am attending school, and I am looking for a job.”

We wish Sean all the best.

vets-day_blog_thumbOur supporters are the reason we are able to help veterans like Sean, who persevere through difficult circumstances. Find out more how Operation Homefront is increasing their efforts to help military families at www.operationhomefront.net/answerthecall.

You could say Edward Smith has the military in his blood. Born and raised in Freeport, New York, Edward knew early on that he wanted to answer the call to serve his country. It’s easy to see why. His father was a Korean War veteran and had a major influence on him wanting to join the military.

edwardsmith-300pixelsHis father had served in the Army, but Edward had a longing for the wind and the waves. So in 1984, he joined the Coast Guard in his hometown. After serving for seven years in the Coast Guard, Edward’s love of the water led him to join the Navy. He served another seven years and received an honorable discharge from the Navy before returning to the Coast Guard as a reservist in 1998.

As an assistant master of arms, Edward assisted in law enforcement by enforcing discipline and non-traditional punishment. During his 30 years of military service, Edward was deployed to Iraq in 2008.

Unable to afford his own home, Edward was living in a one bedroom apartment. With two teenage children, it felt a little crowded for a family of three. After hearing about our Homes on the Homefront program through a veteran’s program, Edward decided to apply for a home.

Thanks to Operation Homefront and our partner Wells Fargo, Edward received a mortgage-free home in Connecticut. “It’s a perfect situation,” Edward said. “This will provide stability and improve my financial situation.”

Edward still spends time on the water as a tug boat captain, but he hopes to retire soon. He also plans on transferring his GI Bill to his children and help put them through college. Until then, he’d like to spend more quality time with them camping and white water rafting.

Vets-Day_blog_icontact“Operation Homefront and Wells Fargo are what make this country great,” added Edward. “Thank you all for helping the veteran community.”

Thank you, Edward, for how you chose to answer the call and build a life of military service.

Join Operation Homefront as we increase our efforts to help our military families. Find out more at www.operationhomefront.net/answerthecall .

operation-homefront-veteran-johnsonPaul Johnson understands that you never know where life will take you, what doors will close, and the others that will open. One life changing journey began for Paul when he emigrated to the U.S. from England in 2000. He settled in New York City.

And then, on September 11, 2001…

After that day, Paul felt the need to answer the call on behalf of his “new country.” He attended fleet week, toured several Coast Guard vessels, and fell in love with the Coast Guard. He decided to join.

It was a perfect match. Paul loved his job. Not only was Paul protecting his adopted country against the drug trade, but he was also saving lives. Paul and his unit made countless rescues, many involved migrants desperate to reach America who jeopardized their lives trying to cross the seas in structures barely seaworthy. Many of those rescued exhibited the signs of what they would give for a new life. They were exhausted, hungry, dehydrated and frequently required medical attention.

In 2013, however, it was Paul who needed medical attention, as he suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) in a shipboard accident. In addition to the TBI diagnosis, Paul was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. As a result, Paul’s dream of serving his country was ended with a medical discharge from the Coast Guard.

The loss in active duty pay caused a financial hardship, but rather than being deterred, Paul looked at his options. That is when he found Operation Homefront. Although he was not one to ask for assistance, his discussion with our caseworker made him feel like he had a sense of control, a voice in the process. Paul’s family received financial assistance for an auto payment, travel expenses, food, and later, a move to a home where they could focus on their future.

Now on more solid footing, Paul can reflect on the different direction his life has taken. Having a TBI has changed Paul’s life in both positive and negative ways. He became involved in adaptive athletics and that has opened up a wide world of new experiences for him. He has skydived in tandem and became a member of Team USA for the Invictus Games in England, the only Coast Guard member. He received a bronze medal in rowing. He is currently working with a Paralympic rower in a double scull with his eyes on the Rio 2016 Paralympics. Paul hopes that his participation on Team USA will inspire others to perform, believe, and move past their disabilities.

Vets-Day_blog_icontactPaul believes in the importance of understanding that one has options despite changes, injuries, and perceived inabilities. He tries to not think in terms of what he can’t do, but instead how he can do things in a different way.

Because he has been helpedby others so much in the past, Paul would like to get into the other side of service by doing peer counseling. To reach this goal, Paul is currently working on his Master’s Degree in Psychology.

But if we know Paul, he won’t stop there. He has learned that everything is a beginning, not an end.

If Paul’s example has inspired you to do something to help military families and wounded warriors, we invite you to join Operation Homefront and find your own way to answer the call. There are many stories like Paul’s, and they need help now. Visit www.OperationHomefront.net/AnswerTheCall

 

Stephen Comeau isn’t afraid of a challenge. When he felt the call to service, he chose the Marines because, in his view, they were “the hardest”.

operation-homefront-veteran-comeauHis time with the Marines would call on all of his courage and determination. As part of the First Marine Division out of Camp Pendleton, Calif., Stephen deployed three times. One of those deployments was defined by the Battle of Fallujah, which the U.S. Military called “some of the heaviest urban combat U.S. Marines have been involved in since the Battle of Huế City in Vietnam in 1968.”

Stephen would return stateside and become an instructor of mountain warfare training in California.  After three years as an instructor, he joined another battalion at Twentynine Palms, Calif. and was deployed to Afghanistan and Jordan.

Jordan would be Stephen’s fifth and last deployment.

One day while at work, Stephen was showing someone how to do knots when he could not remember what he was doing. Stephen had been involved in several blast incidents and a Humvee accident over his five deployments. It was determined that he battles with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and an undiagnosed Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). In June 2013, Stephen was medically retired from the Marine Corps.

Stephen wanted to move somewhere quiet with trees and warm weather. They found what seemed like the “perfect house”, located in a quiet cul de sac in a town in Arizona, and purchased the home. Excited, Melissa and Stephen and their son moved, looking forward to healing and moving forward with life after the military. However, shortly after moving in, they realized the previous owner had remodeled and the downstairs areas had four different types of flooring. Some of the seams in the floor were a hazard for Stephen, who had gait issues as a result of his TBI.

Not long after moving in, Melissa attended a caregiver event in Washington, D.C., and in a conversation with one of our Operation Homefront representatives, learned about programs that help wounded warriors—one of which assisted with home repairs. That meeting was a turning point, as soon after Melissa returned home, Stephen fell and landed on his hip while walking in the downstairs area of their home. Melissa knew something had to be done. They could not afford to fix the floors, and they did not want to move. But Stephen needed to be safe in their home, and something had to be done. She remembered the conversation she had at the caregiver event about our home repair program. Melissa filed an application for assistance with us, which was approved.Vets-Day_blog_icontact

Thanks to the generous support of our partner, Home Depot, we were able to remodel the floors in the Comeau home and make it safe for Stephen. Just as Stephen answered the call to serve his country, Home Depot and Operation Homefront answered the call when he needed help.

Melissa and Stephen now have one less worry as they begin moving forward. Melissa expressed the couple’s thoughts: “Thank you for thinking of the home life and making it safer. I appreciate that someone is out there making the home better for veterans with challenges; people want to stay in their own homes which you recognize. Our home now feels brand new, and it is our dream home.”

Melissa wrote about her experience with Operation Homefront on an Elizabeth Dole blog http://elizabethdolefoundation.org/hiddenheroes-blog/#sthash.WNxqJPRC.i8f0d3iA.dpbs

Learn more about Operation Homefront’s effort to increase support for veterans by visiting www.operationhomefront.net/answerthecall.

 

 

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