Wounded soldier still the heart of the family
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.
An emergency medical technician in civilian life, Sgt. Corey Briest, an Army MP, didn't hesitate when a roadside bomb exploded Dec. 4, 2005, injuring soldiers in his convoy in Baghdad, Iraq. As he rushed to the injured, a second bomb exploded.
His wife, Jenny, was told to make funeral arrangements because Mr. Briest, who suffered a traumatic brain injury, likely wouldn't survive.
Against all odds, he lived, like so many others injured in these wars. But he is forever changed. Mr. Briest, who retired in April, is blind and has problems with short-term memory and balance.
For Ms. Briest, 27, and the couple's children, Kylie, 7, and Connor, 4, all that matters is he is alive and lives with them in Yankton, S.D.
Part of his skull was replaced with an acrylic plate. He endured 18 months of rehab in Minnesota and California, requiring the family to move to those locales. But Mr. Briest, 28, is at heart the husband and father his family remembers.
"The best thing is he is still himself, he still has his sense of humor," Ms. Briest said. "The first words he said when he began to speak was our daughter's name.
"The joy we see when he interacts with the kids, knowing he's still here and doing the same things with us is what's important. The best thing of all is he said he's going to walk his little girl down the aisle when she gets married. That makes everyone smile."
It hasn't been easy. Ms. Briest had to quit her job as a special education teacher, "but I knew my husband needed me," she said.
This month, she will attend a caregiver summit in Washington, D.C., to promote legislation to support primary caregivers.
"Right now, this is our new normal," she said. "I don't think the public knows how much work it is day to day for loved ones. It was my husband's wish to never to be in a VA or a nursing home. I wouldn't have done it any other way. He's still dad, he's still my husband and we want him here."
First Published July 20, 2009 12:00 am