I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by
–Sea Fever, By John Masefield
Coming home from war can be the beginning of another journey, one that, at times, takes our wounded warriors into the unknown, the lonely sea and sky.
For Chris, it began in 2008, after a 15 month deployment. Chris came home from that deployment a different person, according to his wife Heidi. Gone was her funny, sweet, loving husband. The jokes had stopped. She said, “He was self-medicating with alcohol and would become angry over the smallest things.” As time passed, Chris’s health worsened and in 2011, Chris was given a diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). By that point, the lack of sleep had triggered a dissociative episode. This started the process that would eventually determine that Chris should medically retire from service.
Chris’ health continued to worsen, and in 2013, Chris went missing. Thankfully, he was found unharmed… but would he next time? Chris’ hospitalization after he was found was the turning point. Together, he and Heidi worked hard to find solutions, get treatment, and learn as much about PTSD as they could. Chris sought alcohol dependency treatment as well. Though the years have passed, Chris still has PTSD. It impacts him daily. But he has learned ways to manage his PTSD. He has his tall ship.
Heidi is his star.
Being a caregiver for our wounded warriors is an incredible burden, but one born and sustained by love. Chris and Heidi met in the high school lunch line when Heidi was a freshman. They have been married for 17 years. On the tough days, and there are very tough days, Heidi always remembers to tell Chris that she loves him. “That’s one thing I have learned, he needs to hear I love him, no matter what his mood is.” Still, it is not an easy path. Heidi wakes up every day to all the household chores, gets the children where they need to go, and manages all the household finances. PTSD affects Chris’ short term memory and he can’t drive to the store, or help get their three children to school or lessons or balance the checkbook and manage the bills.
So, how do we keep the star from burning out? That is focus of the mission of our Hearts of Valor program and the Dole Foundation’s Caregiver Fellows program. Heidi has been a member of HOV since shortly after her husband’s diagnosis, and was recently selected as a 2015 Dole Foundation Caregiver Fellow. Of the 32 Fellows selected, 12 of them are participants in Operation Homefront’s Hearts of Valor program.
“When I first found Hearts of Valor, not long after my husband’s PTSD diagnosis, I was able to attend a retreat in Oklahoma City where I was able to learn so much about myself as a wife, caregiver, mother, and friend. The retreat truly taught me to be understanding, dedicated to my veteran but also to myself.” Heidi continues, “… Hearts of Valor has given me the opportunity to meet some of the greatest friends I have ever had and the chance to donate my time to help caregivers and wounded warrior families. No one should feel alone and not know what help is out there for them.”
As a Dole Fellow, Heidi will not only continue to build the network of support and friendship vital to the health and well-being of our wounded warrior caregivers, but to be a guiding force to caregivers nationwide. Senator Elizabeth Dole was inspired to launch the Elizabeth Dole Fellows Program after hearing from hundreds of caregivers across the country that they were not being given an opportunity to voice their challenges and needs. The mission of the program is to engage active military and veteran caregivers directly in the Foundation’s initiatives, allowing them to advise and play a leading role in raising awareness for the needs of caregivers throughout the nation.
When Heidi heard about the Dole Foundation accepting applications to be the voice of caregivers in her state, she was excited to help. As a volunteer with Operation Homefront since 2012, Heidi is perfect a perfect fit for this role, as she is selfless and incredibly kind. She believes that giving back is the most important part of being a caregiver and she is excited to travel with the other fellows to tell her story.
A tall ship and a star to guide her by.
As we continue to face the impact of 13 years of war on a generation, these guiding stars will remain critical to staying on course..
Hearts of Valor seeks to honor the service and sacrifice of the people who care for our nation’s wounded, ill or injured warriors by providing a community of support based on a foundation of empathy and mutual understanding. Twelve Hearts of Valor community members have been selected as 2015 Dole Fellows, and our Program Coordinator, Cheryl, us a Fellow Emeritus
(The Foundation believes) that our nation’s military caregivers need and deserve robust, effective support in light of the mental, physical, and financial challenges they face in caring for wounded warriors suffering from physical injuries, invisible wounds of war, or both.