Bree Shields, a military spouse and caregiver in Phoenix, Arizona, has spent the last several years supporting and empowering her husband, Sean.
She is one of more than five million military caregivers in the U.S. and understands what others like her and Sean go through on a daily basis.
Sean is an Army Veteran who deployed to Afghanistan in 2013. He sustained a knee and back injury, memory and hearing loss, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). After returning home, he couldn’t help shake off the feeling that “something was off.”
Bree watched her husband try to mask his feelings but knew something was wrong. “It took a while for me to learn his story and what he had been through while deployed,” she said.
Not just live, but live well
Bree remembers the night Sean was hospitalized to address mental health concerns. It was then she really understood her caregiver role because his life was on the line. “I knew I had to give everything I could to help him live, and not just live, but live well,” she said.
She recognized that her husband’s injuries took away some of his independence and she wanted to help him regain that freedom. “That is really what it’s all about, helping our Veterans live a life that is full, rich, and good,” she said.
Bree is fully-involved in Sean’s medical care, which he receives through VA. “Not only do I drive Sean to appointments, but I sit in on those appointments and take notes about critical information so that we can implement treatment recommendations at home,” she added.
Finding an aquatic therapy community provider
Sean was eligible for community care. Bree says her recent experience with VA and TriWest Healthcare Alliance to find an aquatic therapy provider for Sean was exceptional.
Aquatic therapy is an exercise program performed in the water that benefits both the mind and body. The viscosity of water provides resistance that allows for muscle strengthening without the need for weights.
The therapy has helped Sean recover from his chronic back injury, address his PTSD, and provide stress reduction along with muscle relaxation.
Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers
Bree is one of thousands of Veteran caregivers who uses VA’s Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers (PCAFC), which was created to help family caregivers of eligible Veterans.
Originally this program was available to eligible Veterans who incurred or aggravated a serious injury in the line of duty while serving in active military, naval or air service on or after September 11, 2001.
On October 1, 2021, the first phase of PCAFC expanded to eligible Veterans who incurred or aggravated a serious injury on or before May 7, 1975. The final phase of expansion will occur in October 2022, to eligible Veterans of any era.
Eligible Veterans may select one primary caregiver and up to two secondary caregivers who can receive supportive services and benefits. You may be eligible for PCAFC if you and the Veteran you’re caring for meet the following requirements:
- You must be at least 18 years old and
- A spouse, son, daughter, parent, stepfamily member, or extended family member of the Veteran or
- Someone who lives full-time with the Veteran, or is willing to do so if designated as a family caregiver
Eligible primary and secondary caregivers can receive:
- Caregiver education and training
- Mental health counseling
- Travel, lodging and financial assistance when traveling with the Veteran to receive care
Eligible primary family caregivers may also receive:
To determine if you’re eligible for PCAFC, you and the Veteran will need to apply together and participate in an application process.
How caregivers give back to themselves
Bree offers some helpful tips for those looking to give caregivers the support they need:
- Share military resources and programs via word of mouth, social media, etc.
- Safely make a connection with a Veteran, face-to-face
- Support Veterans by listening to their stories, and inspire them to live a full life
Her dedication to caregiving led Bree to be selected by the Elizabeth Dole Foundation as a Dole Caregiver Fellow for Arizona. She is so excited for this journey and to help other caregivers give back to themselves.
“I recognize the fatigue that can come with being a caregiver,” she said. “I don’t want other caregivers to burn out and put themselves and our Veterans at risk.”
Bree hopes her story encourages other military caregivers and Veterans to access the help they need through shared resources.
Together, VA and TriWest offer resources and assistance to both Veterans and Veteran caregivers.
Resources and support