Is your wounded warrior suffering from a spinal cord injury (SCI) that requires you to assist him or her with daily activities such as bathing, dressing, and bladder management?
If so, you are not alone. Caregiving can be emotionally, intellectually, and physically challenging at times. However, you can do several things to take care of yourself and ultimately better serve your wounded warrior.
The spinal cord is a long series of nerve cells stretching from the brain to the lower back. These nerve cells send signals from the brain to all parts of the body and back to the brain. During military operations, service members may be exposed to ammunition explosives, fragments, or blasts that can penetrate the spinal cord. Depending on a wounded warrior’s injury, its severity, and the impact on nerve cells, the SCI may affect neighboring parts of the body.
Disruption to the spinal cord can lead to changes in movement, feeling, and bladder control and possibly to changes in brain activity. Damage to the lower portion of the spine can result in paraplegia (the loss of motor or sensory function) and possible loss of bladder, bowel, and sexual function. Injury to the upper portion of the spine near the neck area can result in tetraplegia, also called quadriplegia, which causes the loss of function in the lower body, upper body, and arms.
The good news is that according to Journal of Rehabilitation Research and Development, recent advances in medicine are allowing individuals who have sustained a severe SCI, who a decade or two ago would not have survived, not only to survive the injury but also to live long, productive lives.
It's important that you, as the caregiver, learn strategies for helping your wounded warrior and yourself.
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, many veterans with SCI qualify for disability compensation because their health problems occurred during military service. Veterans Affairs also states that wounded warriors with SCI unrelated to military services may receive VA medical care under certain rules governing individuals with serious disabilities or low incomes. Upon qualification, benefits may include:
Remember: Veterans Affairs is there for you! The Department of Veterans Affairs has recently established the VA Caregiver Support Program to offer support and services to family caregivers of veterans. The program includes information and tips on what to expect when caring for wounded warriors, tips on staying strong and healthy, and a caregiver support line for times when you just need someone to listen. For additional information, visit the VA Caregiver Support website.
Veterans Affairs also has the largest single network of SCI care in the nation, extending from 23 regional SCI centers offering primary and specialty care by multidisciplinary teams. Call your local Veterans Affairs regional SCI center for care and benefits assistance.
For more information, assistance, and SCI resources, visit BrainandSpinalCord.org or Department of Veterans Affairs. Contact your local Army installation's SFAC for information about support groups and caregiver support services.
Photos provided by the Fort Hood Sentinel.