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A Caregiver Support Program (CSP) Editorial Series

April 2 0 2 2

Dear Fellow Caregiver

A Caregiver Support Program Editorial Series

April is Month of the Military Child. The Veterans Affairs (VA) Caregiver Support Program (CSP) is proud to honor this observance by recognizing the many caregivers with children or adolescents. This special edition of ‘Dear Fellow Caregiver’ features a letter from caregiver, wife, and mom, Rose Cotto. Read her letter below to learn about her transition into caregiving and how she talks to her kids about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Dear Fellow Caregivers - Here’s how I talked to my kids about Post-traumatic Stress Disorder 

Dear Fellow Caregivers,

My name is Rose, and I want to share my family’s story with you. My husband served in the Army. He returned from Operation Iraqi Freedom 10 years ago, when my son was 5 and my daughter was 8. He came home with PTSD, anxiety, depression, diabetes, and chronic pain. I wish I knew then what I know now. I was in such a dark place at that time; it was like driving in a foggy area with low visibility and I wasn’t even sure if we were on a downward hill or an uphill road.

My husband came home so different, he had really changed. I started to realize how our children’s lives would be so different than I had imagined. I would ask myself “why doesn’t he want to be involved with the kids, talk to them or play?” His demeanor could change so quickly, and our children didn’t understand. They would ask what they did to “make him like that”. They would question “why is he so angry and sleeping all the time?” My daughter was particularly observant and very aware of his emotions. It felt like what was happening to them was happening to me. As a mom, if they felt it five times, I felt it ten times, because I felt it for them too. I felt alone and lonely as it seemed to all fall on me. This was hard for me, for my heart and soul. I couldn’t sleep and I lost weight due to the stress of managing three people who needed my attention and care.
Over time, my husband was not improving, and I realized I needed to accept what was in front of me. I began to educate myself by reading everything I could find about caregiving. I started attending a support group at my church. I found a Vet Center family group and I met the CSP team at Hines VA. This was a godsend. I attended every educational offering I could as well as counseling and support groups. If CSP offered it, I did it! From signing up for the Building Better Caregivers workshop, subscribing to the Annie Caregiver Text Messaging program, and completing VA S.A.V.E (suicide prevention skills training), I did everything I could to improve my knowledge and skills as a caregiver. I even joined into the VA Caregiver Support Line’s Monthly Education Calls.

To have other caregivers understand me and to be in a place where I didn’t have to explain myself, made a difference. I needed to have support in place for me, so I could best support the three people who needed me.

After my husband came home, I realized my children also needed support. And that support started with me talking openly with them as a mom and as my husband’s caregiver. I had to educate myself about how to talk to them. I learned to speak to them at their level, based on their age. I helped explain so they could understand and accept, so they wouldn’t see dad as “the monster in the house”. Over time, the kids learned to understand it was not their fault and that they are loved. We found it was so important to take breaks, to be active, and go to the park. I had to learn to be resourceful for them and do so on our budget. Our children became so knowledgeable about PTSD. I helped them connect with activities they enjoy, such as swimming and piano. We got involved with Our Military Kids and Wounded Warrior Project. I wanted them to have some normalcy and to make sure they knew they weren’t alone. Through these organizations, they were able to see that other kids have similar experiences. And with that, they were better able to accept it.

What I want you to remember, dear fellow caregiver, is this is a process. What I describe here with my family did not happen overnight. And even ten years later, I’m still learning. If you want your relationship and your children to thrive - and if you want to thrive - hang on through those hard times.

In time, I learned to stop longing for the life I had before, and I learned to accept the life I was living. I would not exchange my experiences as it made me who I am today, as a person, as a mom and a caregiver to my Veteran. We still have ups and down, new concerns with old concerns. I will always do whatever I can to help my children to fly and my husband to thrive. What I wish I knew then that I know now and will share with you - keep praying and have hope. It won’t always feel like a foggy road.

With you,

Rose Cotto

Need Help?

Call VA’s Caregiver Support Line (CSL) at 1-855-260-3274 to learn more about the support that is available to you, and for assistance connecting with the Caregiver Support Team/Coordinator, at your local VA Medical Center.

VA CSL Expanded hours:
      -Monday-Friday 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. ET
      -Saturday 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. ET

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