If you’ve been following my blog, you know that I am a proud Army Brat turned Army wife turned Veteran’s wife.
I know my way around the military lifestyle and had no problems connecting with other military spouses/dependents.
But NOTHING prepared me for the transition to Veteran’s Wife.
As an active duty military spouse and dependent I had access to a variety of programs, organizations and people. So, if I had any questions or concerns, there was a way to find an answer. This is what I miss the most about being a military spouse: the community and structure.
Needless to say, becoming a Veteran’s wife has been quite the challenge. There are so many things I wish I had known before my husband left the Army. Being thrown into the civilian world after having known nothing other than the military lifestyle has been one of the greatest challenges. If it has affected me in such a dramatic way, I can only imagine what it has done to my husband.
Having that said, I firmly believe that my support is vital in my husband’s rehabilitation and integration into civilian society. If your veteran has some form of service-connected disability, they will most-likely be dealing with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). I couldn’t imagine not having any military lifestyle background and then being thrown into the jungle that the VA is. This is probably one of the biggest hurdles you and your veteran will face. Even though, the VA has some amazing people working for them it can get extremely overwhelming.
For this reason, I have compiled 6 important tips every (new) veteran’s spouse must read
Hopefully, this will help you keep your sanity enough to keep going!
Be prepared to fill out multiple forms…multiple times
- Your veteran will have to fill out a-gazillion-and-one forms to apply for benefits. Although, I must say that they have improved this process via e-Benefits. There are a number of ways your veteran can apply for all kinds of different benefits the VA offers. Aside from the original paperwork your veteran will fill out for benefits and healthcare, I highly recommend you make sure the VA has a Release of Information (ROI) for you!
- For the most part, I don’t necessarily have an issue making appointments or contacting my husband’s providers. However, after 9 years of my name popping up in the system I would hope that someone notices me and realizes that I am his wife. 🙂 On a serious note though, having this ROI will make your life A LOT easier. If you have it on file and they call to make an appointment or relay information about test results, they technically cannot relay that information unless there is a ROI on file. It took us 3 years and at least different 5 attempts of sending this form to the VA before they finally uploaded the form into the system and had access to it.
- IF your veteran is eligible for the Veteran’s Choice Program, this is particularly important. The Veteran’s Choice is basically a form of Purchased Care that allows veterans to see providers within the community. The VA contracts out to TriWest Healthcare Alliance to look for providers and make appointments. The catch to this is that they don’t have access to the ROIs on file with the VA. Therefore, you need to fill out yet another ROI for TriWest in order for you to talk to anyone; even if it is for something simple as setting up an appointment.
- And I recommend to not forget the Advanced Directive! This form basically allows you, or whomever your veteran chooses, to become the person to make medical decisions based on his/her wishes in the case of them not being able to. It sucks, but personally I found that the sooner it is done, the better.
- Check out my post on How to Organize Medication and Provider Info for some tips to organize the vast information the VA likes to give our veterans.
Know your (Veteran’s) rights
- The VA presents the Rights and Responsibilities quite openly on their website and should also be displayed at VA facilities. So it’s not necessarily difficult to find this information. However, getting some VA employees to abide by these rules and accept your veteran and your wishes is sometimes an entirely different story.
- If at any time you feel your rights as a family member and especially your veteran’s rights are being violated, I highly recommend contacting your VAMCs (VA Medical Center) Patient Advocate.
- The military has these unspoken rules about how spouses and family members should dress, act and generally present themselves. Technically, you are now civilians and can basically do whatever the civilian world allows you to do. Having said that, it is sometimes far easier to get your point across if you present yourself in a more polite manner compared to storming through the doors and making a giant scene in the middle of the hospital lobby. This is why I believe it is important to know and understand your rights as a family member and your veteran’s rights a patient at the VA!
Learn the “Chain of Command”
- If you have any experience or knowledge of military lifestyle, you know that the military has this thing called a Chain of Command. If your service member has any issues or requests, he/she would go up this Chain of Command to get them resolved or addressed. The VA, although not necessarily as strict as the military, also has some sort of Chain of Command. Remember when I said to contact your Patient Advocate should you have any issues with providers or you believe rights have violated? If you have issues with a provider, the VA seems to prefer that you try to resolve it with them first and then their supervisor. If everything fails, contact your Patient Advocate.
- I must admit that I, as a spouse, have given this chain of command the finger a few times and went over the person’s head before they could twirl their fingers and make a paper airplane. (This is what I picture some VA employees at work, just FYI)
- The thing is, I have noticed that if I go along with the chain of command my point tends to come across a lot easier. Plus, if I keep my cool and stay respectful things go far smoother. Generally, I try to make sure that every person I talk to receives the benefit of the doubt until they show me either they care about nothing else but their paycheck or they are just plain a$$holes.
- Additionally, if you go via chain of command you can prove you have attempted to remedy the situation by starting with the ‘lowest ranking’ person and worked your way up, but your issue still didn’t get resolved.
Connect with other Caregivers
- This is probably one of the most important things I would like to tell you about! If you come from a military lifestyle, you may be used to the tight-knit military spouse community. If you are lucky and available enough to upkeep these relationships I envy you. After moving, having to find civilian jobs that never amounted to much, fighting for the care my husband needs, a few set-backs and constant stress I have lost just about all connections with friends I used to have. There is the occasional “How are you” small talk on Facebook, but that is pretty much it.
- If you are completely new to this lifestyle, be prepared to have to explain about a gazillion-and-one things to your civilian friends. This does not guarantee that they will understand, though. I have had quite a few conversations with other military caregivers who have lost many of their friends. This loss, according to them, was mostly due to their friends not understanding why they had to cancel yet another coffee-date; after already canceling the previous 10 within 2 months.
- This is why I highly recommend trying to connect with other military caregivers as soon as you can. Whether you connect via the VA’s Caregiver Support program or you find a local support group does not matter. As long as you find others whom you can relate with and understand the challenges that come with being married to a veteran.
- Plus, it may help you keep your sanity in the long run. From personal experience, I have noticed that only other spouses/family members understand my frustrations, fears and awkwardly dark and weird humor I have developed over the years.
Foster your relationship with your veteran
- This will probably be one of the most difficult things to deal with. I’m sure I am not the only one when I say that communicating and interacting with our vets isn’t always the easiest task we are faced with. From a wife’s perspective, it definitely isn’t always easy. Of course, other relationships experience tough times. Other people also have difficulties communicating with their significant other. However, other caregivers I’ve spoken to seem to feel very similar.
- Don’t give up on your veteran.
- Encourage date nights or watch a movie when the kids are in bed.
- Use subtle physical contact.
- Try to set a time to have dinner together.
- You know your veteran best! Try to find different things you would enjoy together or as a family and encourage this interaction.
- Don’t get discouraged, though, if your vet doesn’t seem to want to put in the same effort.
Don’t neglect yourself!
- Most importantly, don’t neglect yourself!
- I know, I know. It is so much easier said than done! And I will be honest with y’all: I have had a very difficult time heeding my own advice here!
- I have neglected myself for so many years that when I look in the mirror I sometimes don’t recognize myself. After suffering from caregiver burnout myself, I have made the effort to take care of myself more. The revelation that everything comes to a standstill if I am not at my best, has really pushed me to take care of myself more. It is a work in progress, I will admit that!
- Get familiar with symptoms of Caregiver Burnout.
- You can also check out my 8 Tips to Avoid Caregiver Burnout as a point of reference.
I hope these tips help you as you transition into this crazy lifestyle.
For the more seasoned veteran spouses: Did I miss anything you feel is important?
Disclaimer: Everything I share is solely based on my personal experience and is for informational purposes only. This post contains affiliate links. For more information, please view my disclosure policy.