Caregiving is tough but rewarding. One Veteran’s mother helps her son thrive with assistance from VA’s Caregiver Support Program.
The role of a caregiver has never been more important or under as much strain as during the pandemic.
Holly Monahan knows this all too well as caregiver to her son Sean, an Army Veteran who served in Afghanistan. She became Sean’s caregiver when a new medical condition surfaced after he had enlisted. While he faces many challenges, one revolves around socialization in the community, an activity severely curtailed this past year to slow the spread of coronavirus.
“The hardest thing is being around people he doesn’t know and being in an environment he doesn’t recognize,” said Monahan. “So, getting him out into the community has been very important and COVID has made it very difficult.”
Monahan has cared for Sean since August of 2015 in her Greensburg, Pennsylvania, home. She said every day is different, posing new challenges.
“A lot of it depends on Sean’s feelings, so I have to shift and adapt to what he wants to do.”
But Monahan knows Sean is a fighter.
“He works harder than just about everyone I know,” Monahan said. “He’s very brave and has more in him than he realizes. He’s my hero as well as my friend.”
With COVID-19 precautions in place, most VA caregiver classes at this time are virtual. They help caregivers learn ways to de-stress from the rigor of 24/7 caregiving and how to care not only for their Veterans, but also for themselves.
Monahan enrolled in VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System’s Caregiver Program pre-pandemic and was able to take a number of in-person classes. She was exposed to new music genres, including types that help calm her. She learned yoga, qui gong, journaling and the benefits of a good diet. She learned mindfulness and meditation techniques she practices either alone or with Sean, and how to use a calming app to help her get to sleep at night.
“A big thing they taught me about is depression and sadness and needing to accept help,” Monahan said.
Monahan encourages other caregivers to try the program. Eligibility in the past year has expanded: it is now open to Veterans who were injured in the line of duty in the active military, naval or air service on or before May 7, 1975, including WWII, Korea and Vietnam Veterans.
“There are so many resources there, it has really exploded now,” Monahan said. “No question is a dumb question; if you need to know, just ask.”
Despite the pandemic, Sean has continued to participate in programs such as Guitars for Veterans and Project Healing Waters, which teaches Veterans how to make lures and fly fish. He and his mother also participate in equine therapy at STAT Ligonier Therapeutic Center with licensed therapists. Sean even volunteers at STAT on Monday nights to help special needs children.
Being around the horses is calming for mother and son. And for Holly, visiting the center provides a welcome break.
“While it is a place for Sean, it has turned into a place for me to unwind and be in the moment,” said Monahan. “It is a magical place. The horses and other animals give me peace.”
Holly said her advice for other caregivers is simple: don’t second guess yourself.
“The choice you make at any given time is the best that you can do at that moment,” she said. “We need to give ourselves more credit for what we do.”
If you are the caregiver for a Veteran and want more information on VA Pittsburgh’s caregiver program, call 412-822-2634 or visit www.caregiver.va.gov.