View Full Version : Spouses' Support: Group helps Marines' wives, husbands cope with caregiving

03-02-06, 08:33 AM
Spouses' Support: Group helps Marines' wives, husbands cope with caregiving
By Chris Mazzolini
Thursday, March 2, 2006


It is a fear shared by military spouses: their loved one has been injured in war, and life will never be the same again. It is an ordeal that leads to a hospital, perhaps Landstuhl in Germany or Bethesda in Maryland, where doctors work to reconstruct limbs and patch up wounds.

There is surgery, and more surgery. Eventually, that Marine comes home.

The toll that such an odyssey takes on a Marine is obvious. The one it takes on the spouse is more subtle. His or her pain does not come from missing limbs or broken bones, but it's just as real.

A new program - the Wounded Warriors Spouses' Support Group - gives spouses of injured Marines and sailors a chance to discuss their questions and pain with each other.

Meeting the third Wednesday of each month at Camp Lejeune, the group has a twofold mission, said Shannon Maxwell, a co-founder of the group. The group informs families about where they can get help and acts as a support group, a safe place to share feelings.

"I want them to know that they are not alone," Maxwell said.

Maxwell has been there. Her husband, Lt. Col. Tim Maxwell, was wounded severely in 2004 when a bomb exploded near his tent in Iraq and shrapnel lodged in his head. The damage to his brain left him facing a long road of rehabilitation.

Although Maxwell's recovery has been remarkable - he is still an active-duty Marine - it doesn't mean that it was not also hard for his wife, who said that the injuries forced her to change her role.

"You become the caregiver," Maxwell said. "Your role as a spouse changes. You go through a huge range of emotion, from pride to times when you feel all alone."

Those lonely times led Maxwell to search out other wives whose husbands were wounded in war. She found, among others, Becky Klepper.

Klepper's husband, Sgt. Karl Klepper, was wounded in Iraq in September. His humvee hit a roadside bomb near Karmah and flipped into a drainage ditch, pinning him under water by his left ankle. The humvee's weight crushed the bones.

Since that day, he has had seven surgeries on his ankle. There are two plates and 16 screws in the joint. He only recently got off his crutches.

Discussing her situation with such women as Maxwell and the group's other founder, Alison Sturla, has helped Becky Klepper get through the difficult time since her husband's injury.

"It kind of makes it easier," Klepper said. "There's strength in numbers. When I talk to Shannon or Alison I can say, 'Yeah, I've been there,' and they understand. We've gotten closeness and comfort from each other. Not only information."

The more they talked, the more Maxwell and the others realized they needed something more structured to reach out to other spouses.

So the monthly meetings held aboard the base will be partly informational, featuring presentations about where wounded Marines and their families can find benefits and resources to help them.

During a recent meeting, the group brought in Col. Paul Bennett from Quantico, Va., to discuss the Traumatic Injury Protection Under Service members' Group Life Insurance - a new program that can give wounded Iraq and Afghanistan veterans as much as $100,000 to help ease their burdens.

Maxwell and Klepper said that in the days after their husbands' injuries, the amount of information concerning benefits can become overwhelming. So the informational portions are a way to spread the important information while giving folks time to catch their collective breath.

"It comes at a time when the focus has to be taking care of your husband," Maxwell said. "You're processing an enormous amount of information.

"There was a lot of information coming in, resources are coming at you so quickly," she said, "that you just need someone to talk to."

The other part of the meeting is private, time for just the spouses to discuss things. Even Lt. Gen. James Amos, the commander of II Marine Expeditionary Force who attended Wednesday, left.

"We close the door just to the spouses so they have a safe, nonthreatening environment, a place they can let their hair down," Maxwell said. "I'd like to see it become just a comfortable setting for these spouses, a place they can come in their hour of need."

Amos offered the group encouraging words during the meeting, saying that their work would help find those who may need help coping with a spouse's injury.

"The effort you are undertaking here is critical," Amos said. "It's something we knew we needed, but we hadn't gotten there yet. It's like if you build it, they will come. In the Jacksonville area, there is a significant number of spouses just like you, and I don't know where they are."

Maxwell praised the Marine Corps for its support.

"The Marine Corps is a family, it's an extended family," she said. "The fact is that when we get the call, there are people standing right behind us; and that's an incredible feeling. It lifts you up and allows you to get through it."

Klepper said that she hopes that the idea of a spouse support group spreads to other military bases.

"There may be one other woman out there that I can give something to make her life or her husband's life a lot easier," Klepper said. "I hope, honestly, this will become a nationwide, uniform-service wide group, so no wife or husband has to go through this by themselves."



03-02-06, 09:22 AM
Great article, Ellie. Support Groups are certainly unsung heros for sure.