When a U.S. service member is severely wounded, the recovery is draining on the primary caregivers, emotionally, physically and financially. Their world is turned upside down. In talking to relatives of these four wounded service members, Post-Gazette reporter Michael A. Fuoco found they felt the government should provide more support for primary caregivers, especially those who gave up jobs and receive no stipend, medical insurance, mental health counseling or respite care while tending to their loved ones.
Jeff Brodeur and his 23-year-old daughter, Colleen Mannion-Brodeur, sport the same tattoos, reading "March 11, 2007," on their backs.
The tattoos are their way of honoring the sacrifices of Vincent Mannion-Brodeur, their son and brother, respectively. On that date, a building rigged with explosives by insurgents blew up in Tikrit, Iraq, gravely injuring then-Army Pvt. Mannion-Brodeur, in the country for only a month, and killing his sergeant.
He received a traumatic brain injury requiring the removal of his cranium and part of his frontal lobe. Shrapnel tore through his entire upper torso and his left arm was nearly blown off.
After years of operations, procedures, lengthy hospital stays -- including a month as Kevin Kammerdiener's roommate in the James A. Haley Veterans Hospital in Tampa, Fla. -- and therapies, Mr. Mannion-Brodeur is back home in Boston, Mass. His daily needs are tended to by his father, 45, and his mother, Maura, 49. That includes everything from dressing him and cutting his food to helping in the bathroom.
Mr. Mannion-Brodeur, who retired as a corporal, now has the speech ability of a fifth-grader.
"Our lives are totally and dramatically different now. We are baby-sitting our adult son now," said his father, who himself was medically discharged from the Army after being injured in Korea. "It has put me $20,000 in debt. I have stomach problems and also got an infection in my mouth that I didn't get treated for quite a while.
"I had to put my son's needs before my own," Mr. Brodeur said. "My wife needs to take medication to sleep. I don't sleep. None of us sleep. We have pain, stress, we're tired all of the time, our bodies are worn out."
Mr. Brodeur said it is long past time that Congress recognizes the needs of caregivers."Society moves on, but our lives are completely at a standstill. It affects you until the day you die," he said. "Trust me, unless you walk in our shoes, you wouldn't believe it."