This week, in honor of Valentine’s Day and the unyielding devotion of the caregivers within the Caregiver Support Program (CSP), we’ll be sharing a tale as old as time – the tale of love.

We’re featuring the love stories of caregivers from CSP’s Peer Support Mentoring Program – Then, Now, and Forever: The Caregivers and the Veterans They Love.

Volker and Margarita Brunke reside in Washington, where Volker is Margarita’s caregiver. But long before he was her caregiver, Volker was a smitten German soldier who was head over heels for Margarita.

Here’s Brunke’s take on the love he has for his wife and how CSP’s Peer Support Mentoring Program has helped him and others in their journeys as caregivers.

The most important day of his life

Brunke can remember meeting his wife for the first time like it was yesterday. The date was May 18, 1999. The location: Royal Air Force Base in Alconbury, England. He even remembers the time. It was 4:35 pm, or as he would put it, 1635L.

Margarita and Volker spending time together in 2020.

According to Brunke, meeting Margarita was the most important day of his life, followed by August 24, 2009 – the day he became a naturalized US citizen.

How did you meet your wife, Margarita?

Volker: I was the future German National Representative of the Multinational Intelligence Coordination Cell, a mission serving troops on the ground in the Balkans.

The representative who I was replacing was introducing me to other representatives. Sergeant First Class Margarita Reyes-Cruz, was the U.S. National Representative.

What were your initial thoughts when you met Margarita?

Volker: When I walked into the room, I looked into her eyes and was completely blown away. I was so smitten. It was love at first sight.

How did you progress from being ‘smitten’ to celebrating 20 years of marriage?

Volker: I resigned from my duties as a German soldier and immigrated to the U.S. in February of 2000. We got married in September of that year. We’ve been together ever since.

Margarita continued her career in the Army after you married?

Volker: Yes. Two years later, she deployed for [a total of] seven years. I saw her about two weeks a year, max. I held down the home front while she was gone and raised our son. My stepson, but for me, he has always been my son. He calls me “dad” in German.

How did you become Margarita’s caregiver?

Volker: In 2008, Margarita was diagnosed with severe PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), resulting from an incident while she was deployed. They took a serious toll on her. In 2010, I resigned from my job to become her appointed caregiver.

Volker and Margarita, both Soldiers in 2002.

You’re a mentor in the Caregiver Peer Support Mentoring Program. What does the program mean to you?

Volker: When my wife was medically separated from the Army, it became clear I would have to step up my engagement as a husband and become a caregiver. Not that I minded at all, but it was a change, nonetheless.

Being an Army husband made me realize very quickly that a husband as a caregiver for a soldier isn’t common. I pretty much felt truly alone. But because of VA, I started to learn about the caregiver program and this program helped me to not only get my caregiver certifications but also enabled me to become part of the mentor program.

I’ve been able to help a few people in their walk as caregivers to understand what PTSD/TBI means. I’ve helped a few parents who have become caregivers to their kids and it feels good to render help where help is needed. There’s strength in numbers.

Can being a caregiver be difficult?

Volker: Sometimes. But if you asked me if I’d do it again, I’d say heck yes!

What advice do you have for other caregivers, especially those who are spouses?

Volker: Ask, ask, and ask! Go to your local VA and ask for the family support coordinator and they’ll point you in the right direction. Lastly, go to “Amazon” and order the extra-large pack of patience. You can’t see PTSD or TBI, but they’re real!

About the Peer Mentoring Program

The Caregiver Peer Support Mentoring Program provides an opportunity for caregivers to receive guidance and to share their experiences, wisdom, skills, and passion with other caregivers. The program is offered under VA’s Caregiver Support Program, Program of General Caregiver Support Services (PGCSS).

PGCSS is available to all caregivers of Veterans enrolled in VA healthcare. There are no eligibility requirements for PGCSS and no formal application. Learn more about the Peer Support Mentoring Program.


Michelle Stefanelli is the national program manager for the Care Management and Social Work Service.

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Hands holding pen and writingArmy Veteran, 81, commends community care experience

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3 Comments

  1. Michelle McLean February 23, 2021 at 2:21 pm

    I am the caregiver to my 100 percent disabled father. I am in need of so much help!!! My mother died of ovarian cancer, my elder brother of two brain cancers, i am all that is left….
    I dont know what is actually available for my dad and as all of you know the VA doesn’t hand out information telling you all that they have for you
    My dad has suffered for years with dentures that hurt him and wont go back to the VA dentist (which there was only one of). Does anyone know of any way to get local help for this?
    This man who served his country for 20 years and went through Vietnam as a medic and now suffers greatly through PTSD and still cant have the windows open in his living room, needs a bathroom in his living area and we cant afford to have one built for him, he didn’t lose a limb so is not eligible for help in getting one made. Again i need help if anyone knows of any?
    I pray for any help at all. I myself have multiple sclerosis, but put my pains aside for my 73 yr old father who deserves the world
    Thank you all and thank you all for your service

  2. Jody Lynn Richards February 14, 2021 at 10:30 pm

    All va officials are not above board..my husband is a Vietnam vet, 68 n 69…Tet invasion..after a botched quadruple bi pass heart surgery, from a local hospital, in 2017, he was finally released from Scared Heart hospital in Pensacola, FL with No Hope for the next breath..I was told to get him re evaluated for medical and his pension.
    I faxed 15 pages of proof to VA in Minnasota, of cancer, heart failure, Stryker hip implant ( that va Knew was a recall!) , a “Buddy letter” from a vet that was with him, etc..just to be turned down.
    And the evening he had heart attack, we were turned away from the gate at Eglin Air Force Base, because the “Gate pass had expired! Not his military id or drivers license! Which we had also..we were ordered to the guard shack, and to get him out of car ( while he is in afib!) so that 2 young people could call the interior for an ambulance..they turned him down twice!!! I demanded our credentials and the correct way to leave the base! He was barely able to get in car, as we had already drove 42 miles to get there.
    I told the two young people at shack to take a Good Long Look at a True American Soldier, A War Veteran, dieing at their feet, and consider their fate later in life when they are at the mercy of a bunch of jackasses that didnt even have the common decency to even send him help after he fought a war for their sorry asses! But understand this, had he went to Eglin, he would be dead now..i believe that with all my heart! But God had a different plan…and he is still alive today, frail, but very much alive..its just extremely frustrating and SAD, that all vets are Not treated fairly or justly…And Please believe me when I say, I will Never stand down where my Good Husband is concerned! Sincerely, one devoted wife..

  3. Jody Lynn Richards February 14, 2021 at 9:48 pm

    After a quadruple bi pass, that went terribly bad, in Oct of 2017..i was advised to set an appointment for my husband to be re evaluated by va, concerning his and new health issues and pension…on Dec 15,2017, I faxed 15 pages of documented proof of health issues, proof of DD 214, a letter from another veitnam veteran who was with him in 1968 and 1969, etc..VA turned him down Flat!!! All VA officials are Not above Board! We can prove cancer, heart failure, the fact that va ordered, with full knowledge, a Stryker (recalled) implant in rt hip…and blew off all attempts of a replacement surgery..now that he is frail and possibly wouldn’t make it threw surgery, va appears to be waiting for him to die, so their job is over and his case will be over…But Know this, I will Never stand down where my Good husband is concerned…Sincerely, one devoted Wife…

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