Hidden Heroes: Caregivers Stand Beside our Marines

We know that when a Marine experiences a wound, illness or injury, it affects the entire family — and through the Recovery Care Coordinator Program, the Wounded Warrior Regiment provides one-on-one support for Marines, Sailors and their caregivers.

Caregivers — whether a relative, partner, friend or neighbor — play a crucial role in a Marine or Sailor’s recovery. Angela Farr, a recovery care coordinator (RCC) with Wounded Warrior Battalion-West, has seen their impact firsthand.

“Caregivers are just what the title implies — they care about their loved ones. They nurture, encourage, support and in all other ways provide a foundation for recovery, rehabilitation and transition.”

RCCs, like Farr, are some of the first nonmedical contacts recovering service members (RSMs) and their caregivers meet. They work with each RSM and their caregivers to evaluate their needs and connect them with resources and services. RCCs also develop comprehensive recovery plans for each RSM that define goals for recovery, rehabilitation and reintegration — giving the RSM and their caregiver a clear path forward.

Caregivers for wounded, ill, or injured Marines or Sailors face a range of challenges that impact them on daily basis, including physical health, mental health, financial, educational, familial, transportation, housing and legal issues.

One caregiver, Imelda Monge, shares an example of the challenges she faces on a daily basis.

“Myself, as a caregiver, I now understand how important it is for me to help my husband in all his ongoing treatments, especially when he has bad episodes for his PTSD. I understand that it’s hard for him to cope with his daily routines especially when he’s under pressure at his job. So, I step in to help him, regardless of what he needs — from medication, to driving him to his appointments, to sitting down with him and taking to him to calm him down.”

Through events like retreats, weekly coffee meetups and an annual Caregiver Appreciation Day, RCCs and the Wounded Warrior Regiment provide opportunities for caregivers to share experiences, find support for the unique challenges they face, relax and remain able to aide in their Marine’s recovery.

Cpl. Roger Kemp and his wife, Kelsey, in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, took advantage of many of the resources available including the Education and Employment Initiative, Hire Heroes USA, Wounded Warrior Project, financial planning through the Navy League of the United States and an orientation with Vocational Rehabilitation. Kemp used the program’s resources to assist him during his medical board to reduce potential frustration.

His wife Kelsey attended a caregiver retreat and a mix of other unit functions to help; she also helps other couples struggling to make it to medical appointments with kids in tow by providing childcare.

“The program has done so much for my family. When the process started we were very overwhelmed. We didn’t have very many friends here and felt extremely helpless and lonely. The program gave us a group of people to talk to who knew what we were going through and had useful suggestions,” she said.

Networking with other Marines, sailors, and families through the regiment provides another layer of support. Staff Sgt. Bradley Simich and his wife Jessica shared a similar experience.

“Before I was referred to them, I was trying to find my own way through my medical board and transition,” Staff Sgt. Simich said. “They helped me with future career opportunities and facilitated face-to-face interviews with organizations I wouldn’t have normally have known about.”

The Wounded Warrior Regiment and RCCs also helped Jessica begin her career by providing childcare assistance.

“By providing assistance with childcare, I was able to get a regular Monday through Friday job and get the work experience I need before my husband gets out,” she said.

Friends of the Windward Wounded Warriors member Steve Jensen, a retired Navy chaplain who spent a good portion of his career with Marines, understands the importance of developing these types of networks. Networks that not only allow for one-on-one conversations during difficult times, but result in invitations to meals in each other’s homes and, most importantly, relationships that last years and assist with the challenges of transition.

“Caring for the wounded warrior, especially those with PTSD, and not involving the whole family misses the mark,” said Jensen. “We provide a holistic approach in creating safe opportunities for spouses and families to come together to learn from each other and build each other up. They are the real experts and learn more from one another than attending a dozen seminars.”

The Wounded Warrior Regiment supports wounded, ill and injured Marines and Sailors, whether incurred in combat or not, through two battalions: Wounded Warrior Battalion-East in Camp Lejeune, NC, and Wounded Warrior Battalion-West in Camp Pendleton, Calif., as well as detachments in Germany and Japan. But the regiment cares for the hidden heroes, too, to make sure that recovery, rehabilitation and transition are successful for the entire family.

Find more resources for caregivers on the regiment’s website and a complete resource guide on the Department of Defense’s Office of Warrior Care Policy’s website.