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Photo credit: Krissy and Joey Banegas at the USO Caregivers Conference in San Antonio. (USO Photo by Mark Matson)
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USO Caregivers Conference Provides Support for Those Who Support Our Troops

Friday, June 01, 2012

By Malini Wilkes 

Patsy Scheiderer knew she was marrying a soldier, but she pushed aside any thought of her husband ever being wounded in combat.

“You just think it won’t happen to us,” she explained.

But it did happen to them. Not once, but twice.

In 2009, Army Spc. Daniel Scheiderer broke his back and neck during his first deployment to Afghanistan.  He returned to the battlefield in 2011 and within a month, an explosion shattered his foot, leaving him with extensive nerve damage. A year later, he’s just starting to walk and is battling post traumatic stress (PTS).

“It’s just dealing with a whole different person every day,” Patsy said. “One day he’ll be okay, the next day he’ll be angry, the next day he’ll be depressed.”

The 22-year-old wife and mother of two was among nearly 100 spouses, partners, parents and others attending the third USO Caregivers Conference in San Antonio this week.

The program offered advice and information on stress management, parenting, military benefits and improving communication with a wounded, ill or injured service member.

The most helpful tip that Patsy learned was that it’s okay for caregivers to take a break.

“A lot of times if I do take a break, I feel that I’m not being fully attentive, that I’m failing,” she said.  “And I’ve learned here that it’s completely fine.”

Leticia Jackson, 47, came to the conference, looking for any tidbit of information to help her care for her husband Anthony.  He was driving from Arizona to Texas in 2005 when a drunk driver smashed into his car.  He became a quadriplegic nine days before he was scheduled to retire from the military.

At the time, Leticia struggled to deal with the news.  “Where do we go from here?” she asked herself repeatedly.  “Our lives weren’t supposed to end this way.  This was supposed to happen during war, not after the end of the journey.”

Seven years later, Leticia is trying to get her husband to agree to counseling and she’s still learning to cope with the drastic change in their relationship.

“I’m taking home a little bit of everything that I heard today and applying it to our lives,” she said.  “One of the things I appreciate is that, in 2005, we didn’t have all this support.  We were just at the beginning of the war. “

When Krissy Banegas met her husband Joey, he had already lost a leg in Afghanistan and was three years into recovery.  Though she willingly stepped into the caregiver role, she sometimes finds the responsibility overwhelming.

“It’s hard. It’s harder than what I thought it would be like in the beginning,” she said.

Joey has had problems with his prosthetic fittings, so he is on crutches, making it difficult to help with daily chores.

“She has to do a lot more of the stuff that I wish I could do. Household stuff, even mowing the lawn,” he explained.

Krissy, 28, does all the cooking and cleaning after she gets home from her full-time job as a phlebotomist.  Meantime, Joey, 32, is adjusting to becoming a full-time dad to their two kids, ages six and three.

“I’m going from an infantryman in Afghanistan to taking care of children,” he said.  “I joke and tell my friends that staying at home is a lot harder than being an infantryman sometimes.”

The couple came away from the conference pledging to work harder on communication. To listen to each other and their children, to avoid blaming each other and to be thankful for their blessings.

“It’s a lot easier to notice the things that are wrong than to realize what you have,” Joey said.  “It’s a lot easier to give up than push through it.”

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Photo credit: Krissy and Joey Banegas at the USO Caregivers Conference in San Antonio. (USO Photo by Mark Matson) 

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