When April Mulvey met her future husband Billy, she could tell he was a veteran by his military-style haircut and the name tags he wore around his neck.
But it wasn’t until she was awakened by her nightmares, heard his nocturnal screams and saw him fight in her sleep that she realized the toll her service had taken. undergo.
âI learned more about him when he was asleep than when he was awake,â April said of her husband’s suffering. “It broke my heart.”
Billy, 45, suffers from service-related PTSD, traumatic brain injury and other ongoing medical issues due to his six years as a Marine, which included a tour of Kosovo. A serious fall in 2018 caused a concussion that worsened his medical problems and left him unemployed.
But when April, also 45, married Billy, she vowed to support him for better or for worse. So although her war wounds left them on the brink of homelessness and still does not allow them to work, she continues to serve as his full-time caregiver.
“We had our worst before we had our best,” said the woman from Union Township. âHe did his duty, and now I’m doing mine.
April manages her doctor’s appointments and medications, goes about the household chores, calms her down when stressed and frustrated by her limitations, and keeps her recovery on track.
Billy says that despite her injuries, her life is much better because of her.
âIt’s very difficult not being able to do the things that I used to do,â he said, âbut she helps me focus on the things I need.â
April is one of hundreds of Berks County relatives who care for veterans injured or disabled while serving in the military.
Their dedication allows these veterans to live better lives, to stay at home and in some cases has likely prevented their suicides, said Ken Lebron, Director of Veterans Affairs for Berks County.
âIt takes a community to help someone, and caregivers are a big part of that support,â he said. “They really sacrifice themselves, and they do a great job.”
Lebron is well aware of how skilled and dedicated April is and nominated her for selection as a member of the Elizabeth Dole Caregiver Fellow to represent Pennsylvania and defend the country’s 5.5 million military caregivers. These spouses, parents, family and friends provide more than $ 14 billion in unpaid care each year to someone who has served, according to the foundation, which recently chose April to champion them statewide.
In this role, she strives to let the public know how important caregivers are and to help connect caregivers with the resources available to them.
âI can’t think of anyone better for this role,â said Lebron. “She’s going to be a great lawyer.”
When Billy was unable to work due to his service-related injuries and concussions, the couple were helped by Lebron’s office to have the VA recognize him as 100% disabled. But before receiving that designation, the couple had been evicted from their apartment, avoiding homelessness only with financial support from Keystone Wounded Warriors.
Billy has been designated as permanently unfit for work and April’s duties as a caregiver also leave her with no time for work. But, the two are surviving on her VA disability benefits and have been able to purchase their own homes.
April acknowledged how difficult things can be for both of them with Billy’s severe headaches and the debilitating nature of his injuries, and said the support they received from the Dole Foundation and other entities made a huge difference, as did the couple’s friends and their faith in God.
âSometimes I felt very lonely and wondered how to do that? ” she said. “But military families need to know that they don’t have to go through this alone. There is a lot of help out there.”
Dole Foundation Fellows Program Director Liz Rotenberry said there are caregivers of all ages, from all eras, and who vary widely in their relationship with the veteran.
“It’s not always the spouses and dependents,” she said.
They take on responsibilities ranging from scheduling doctor’s appointments, managing medications and transportation to helping with daily tasks, such as cooking and cleaning, she said.
Often they have to quit their job or school, relying on a monthly VA allowance paid to caregivers providing personal care services to eligible veterans enrolled in the Caregiver Support Program.
Often, caregivers don’t see themselves as fulfilling this role, Rotenberry said.
âThey do what you do when you love someone,â she said, adding that they don’t seek compensation or realize it’s available.
It is important that they recognize the effort they put into this work, ask for the allowance they are entitled to and ask for help when they feel overwhelmed, she said.
Apply for benefits
Rotenberry also encouraged those who have not yet signed up for VA benefits and health care to do so. While navigating these processes can be difficult, county veterans services offices are generally helpful and veterans should be given the service they deserve, she said.
Without caregivers, many of these veterans could not stay at home, Rotenberry said.
April is not eligible for caregiver compensation as Billy served prior to September 11, 2001, but the VA is gradually expanding her eligibility and she hopes to be approved at the end of next year.
She has encouraged other caregivers to stay strong and take care of themselves, and she is following her own advice, knowing that she and Billy must stay the course.
“I wish he didn’t have these injuries, but I’m happy to help him,” she said. “I love my husband, and that’s what love is.”