Caregivers of Military Amputees

Family Caregiving January 06, 2012 Print Friendly and PDF

Does your wounded warrior amputee suffer from…

  • Loss of appetite?
  • Changes in eating patterns?
  • Lack of energy?
  • Increased sleepiness?
  • Poor concentration?
  • Loss of libido?
  • Social withdrawal?
  • Feelings of hopelessness?

If so, he or she may be experiencing depression. The pre- and post-amputation process can be difficult for both you and your wounded warrior. It is important that you, as a caregiver, become knowledgeable about the issues that your wounded warrior may face, including symptoms of depression.

Characteristics of military amputations

The majority of military amputations occur in the lower portion of the body, rather than the upper. The level of amputation refers to the location on the body where the removal of the limb takes place. For example, amputation may occur below the knee, above the knee, below the elbow, or above the elbow.

During military operations, your service member suffered the loss of a limb due to explosions, small weapons fire, or motor vehicle accidents. Depending on the nature or severity of the wound, the goal is to restore your wounded warrior’s limb to its preinjury function level, while maintaining as much limb length as possible.

According to the Amputee Coalition of America, war injuries are different from civilian injuries in that they are often accompanied by more soft tissue damage. Because of the severity of the damage to the soft tissue and the damage to the skin and muscle, higher amputation levels may be required to prevent infection and to allow for bone coverage, causing the injury to take longer to heal.

Strategies for coping with an amputee patient

  • Watch for signs and symptoms of depression.
  • Connect with family, friends, and neighbors during the rehabilitation process to provide positive surroundings.
  • Engage your wounded warrior with others who have experienced limb loss.
  • Support your wounded warrior as he or she regains control and increases strengths and uniqueness.
  • Search for technological advances in prosthetic design; advanced prosthetics can significantly improve patient satisfaction and facilitate progress and rehabilitation.
  • Join a support group for caregivers who are in similar wounded warrior situations. Locate such groups by contacting your local Army installation's Soldier and Family Assistance Center (SFAC).

Amputation recovery phases

The Amputee Coalition of America uses six phases to describe the difficult recovery process that wounded warriors may go through after amputation.

Phase 1: Enduring The first phase the wounded warrior may experience during the recovery process is the need to focus on the present to get through the pain, while blocking out distress about the future. It is a conscious choice not to deal with the full meaning of the loss.

Phase 2: Suffering The wounded warrior may have intense feelings about the loss of limb(s). These feelings may include fear, denial, anger, depression, vulnerability, and confusion. Emotional anguish about the loss of self adds to the pain.

Phase 3: Reckoning During the reckoning phase, the wounded warrior is coming to terms with the extent of the loss of limb(s), accepting what is left after the loss, understanding the implications of the loss for the future, and minimizing his or her own losses in comparison to others’ losses.

Phase 4: Reconciling The wounded warrior is beginning to regain control, becoming aware of his or her strengths and uniqueness, being more assertive, taking control of his or her life, and managing the recovery process.

Phase 5: Normalizing During phase five, the wounded warrior is starting to balance his or her life, establishing or maintaining  new routines and once again doing the things that matter, allowing priorities other than the loss to dominate his or her life.

Phase 6: Thriving The final phase of recovery is not attained by all wounded warrior amputees. Thriving is being more than before, trusting self and others, building confidence, and being a role model to others. 

Ways to help during the recovery phases

Phase 1 Reassure your wounded warrior of your commitment. Provide him or her with a comfortable environment in which to deal with the pain and loss.

Phase 2 Listen and offer help when your wounded warrior is experiencing pain, worry, anger, frustration, and fear. If your wounded warrior wants your help, he or she can tell you what is needed or how you might handle the challenge together.

Phase 3 Illustrate the possible effects that rehabilitation and advances in prosthetic design may have on your wounded warrior. This may allow your wounded warrior to accept his or her current life changes and offer hope for the future.

Phase 4 Be patient. Let your wounded warrior do as much as possible, even if tasks take longer or your wounded warrior does something differently than you.

Phase 5 Maintain a schedule of daily activities for your wounded warrior. This will allow for your wounded warrior to focus on a routine and bring balance back into his or her life.

Phase 6 Encourage your wounded warrior to interact with others in similar situations. Talking with other wounded warrior amputees will provide a positive outlook not only for your wounded warrior but also for those wounded warriors just starting the recovery phase.

Physical injury compilation

Caregiver resources

For more on U.S. Army Patient Care Programs, visit the Amputee Coalition of America website. Contact your local Army installation's SFAC for information about support groups and caregiver support services. For additional information on caregiving, visit the VA Caregiver Support website.


  1. Amputee Coalition of America. 2003. First Step: A Guide for Adapting to Limb Loss. Amputee Coalition of America, 3, 1-54.
  2. Dealing with Grief and Depression.” Military in-Step. 27 Feb. 2011.
  3. National Limb Loss Information Center Limb Loss FAQ’s.” Amputee Coalition of America. 6 Oct. 2008. 3 Feb 2011.
  4. Patterson, D., & Wiechman, S. 2004. ABC of Burns, Psychosocial aspects of burn injuries. British Medical Journal, 329, 391-393.
  5. The Loss of a Limb.” U.S. Army Wounded Warrior Program (AW2). Aug. 2009. 3 Feb. 2011.
  6. The Military Amputee and the Unique Characteristics of War Injuries.” Military in-Step. 11. Sept. 2006. Amputee Coalition of America publication with the U.S. Army Amputee Coalition of America publication. 3 Feb. 2011.
  7. The Recovery Process.” Military in-Step. 27 Feb. 2011.
  8. U.S. Military Builds on Rich History of Amputee Care.” Military in-Step. 18. Sept. 2008. Amputee Coalition of America publication with the U.S. Army Amputee Patient Care Program. 15 Oct. 2008.

Photo 1 provided by the Fort Hood Sentinel; photo (2) provided by the U.S. Department of Defense.

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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.