[caption id=“attachment_14331” align=“aligncenter” width=“750”]5L0A9822 Carleeh Mullholland, right, smiles as she watches the opening remarks of the USO Caregivers Seminar in Tacoma, Washington.[/caption]

TACOMA, Wash. – Carleeh Mullholland didn’t choose to be a caregiver.

But when her husband, medically retired Army Sgt. Cy Mullholland, was diagnosed with severe PTSD and TBI after serving several tours in the Middle East as a tank commander, she stepped into the caregiving role – whether she was ready or not.

“It fell in my lap,” she said. “[I had to] take care of my husband and I didn’t really get a say-so.”

After receiving his official diagnosis, Cy served for several more years before eventually being medically discharged. During the family’s transition process out of the military, Carlee notes that her husband’s condition added another dimension to an already difficult and confusing time.

"You’re in this place where you don’t know where you are, you don’t know what’s going to happen, there’s no job for your spouse if he is unable to work [like my husband, who is disabled],” Carleeh said. “So you got to figure something out.”

[caption id=“attachment_14332” align=“alignright” width=“300”]5L0A9881 Carleeh Mullholland, center, takes notes during the USO Caregivers Seminar.[/caption]

Over the past few years, Carleeh, a mother of three, has started to figure it out

Around the same time her husband was diagnosed and medically discharged, fitness, health and wellness became her passion, career and coping mechanism to positively manage the added stress of being a caregiver. She also discovered a slew of other resources for caregivers, including the USO Caregivers Seminar, which she attended with a group of her friends in Tacoma earlier this week.

“I [came to the seminar because I] did really want more knowledge and more education so I can really be a better caregiver,” she said.

The USO Caregivers Seminar features a day of engaging speakers, workshops and presentations designed to address the immediate needs of caregivers of wounded, ill and injured service members. At some Caregivers Seminars, like the recent session in Tacoma, attendees also have the option to stay in a hotel the night before the event, which allows them to fully relax and engage during the seminar

“The only time for me to be able to come to anything is when it’s all in one,” Carleeh said. “So when I heard that there was going to be [optional] overnight [accommodations, I knew I could plan, stay overnight and not] be stressed out so I could just come and kind of get that free time for myself too.”

Although she has been to other programs for caregivers of wounded, ill and injured soldiers, Carleeh said her experience at the USO Caregivers Seminar was enjoyable and different.

[caption id=“attachment_14334” align=“alignleft” width=“300”]Steve Shenbaum of gameonNation (right) plays a game with an attendee. Steve Shenbaum of gameonNation, right, plays a game with an attendee.[/caption]

In particular, she enjoyed seeing her fellow caregivers relax and open up during the individual presentations, like the interactive game-dynamics session held by Steve Shenbaum, gameonNation’s founder and president.

“I got to see the fun side of them instead of the caregiver side which is usually, ‘My veteran has this injury and I have to do this’,” Carleeh said. “When we all got in there and had a bunch of laughs and … you could really see them as they are.”

Carleeh appreciated the opportunity to spend the day learning about tools and techniques that could help her take care of herself as well as improve her caregiving skills.

“From coming to these things, you learn the tools that you need,” she said.

“If it’s geared towards caregivers, I don’t have to tell [my husband] I’m going to another session to learn about [PTSD or TBI]. … This is for me. This is for caregiving.”

For more information on future USO Caregivers Seminars, go to uso.org/caregivers.

CORRECTIONS: The timing description of Cy Mullholland’s diagnosis has been updated. Cy received official diagnosis several years before transitioning out of the military. CORRECTION: The official language of Cy Mullholland’s diagnosis has been updated. Although Cy suffers from severe PTSD and TBI, he is not 100 percent disabled.