FORT BELVOIR, Va. Melissa Meadows thought she was prepared for the life of a military wife, frequent moves and deployments were going to happen and she was ready. However, nothing could prepare her for the medical change her and her family endured. Overnight, Meadows became a caregiver to her husband, U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Jon Meadows. During a deployment, Jon sustained multiple injuries from an improvised explosive device blast including a traumatic brain injury, visual impairment and seizures; he is now permanently disabled.
"The sudden change in our lives nearly destroyed our family. It took a year to get ourselves on track as a family including giving up our home. It always seemed like once we got a routine of sorts going, things would change," Melissa Meadows said.
Meadows shared her experience as a caregiver during the second annual Family Readiness Professional Summit at Fort Belvoir. Col. Matthew St Laurent, Deputy Chief of Staff, Warrior Care and Transition emphasized the role Family Readiness Professionals, and caregivers play in strengthening Soldiers and their family unit as he welcomed attendees to the event.
"The amount of support and the resilience family readiness professional's exhibit overtime is tremendous. You are a critical component to the family unit and you are undoubtedly the unsung heroes, along with their caregivers, said St Laurent.
More than 30 family readiness professionals were on hand to discuss family program initiatives, behavioral health and resource accessibility for Soldiers and their families.
Patricia Centeno, U.S. Army Medical Command's Chief of Family Programs says the family support professional team is committed to helping Soldiers and families receive the care they need.
"When our Soldiers and their families come in for support, we have to think out of the box, there's never just one answer. We need to make sure there is a laundry list of resources, backups and programs for our professionals to take to the Soldiers and their families. We want to make sure they stay resilient," Centeno said.
Juanita McKeown, Family Program Analyst for Warrior Care and Transition, says family readiness professionals ensure wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers and their families are equipped and supported in their recovery journey.
"As the Soldier is healing and transitioning back to the force or into civilian life they are often adjusting to a new normal.' We must not forget that it is these [family readiness professionals], along with caregivers and many other unsung heroes that are making this happen. Thus, adding to the readiness of Soldiers and families," McKeown said.
With an estimated six million military and veteran caregivers nationwide, caregivers like Melissa Meadows say support systems like the Family Readiness Support Summits are needed more than ever.
"Caregiving is a unique and individualized journey for each caregiver. We need support, we need understanding, we need respite and we need to be part of the Care Team and above all else, we have to take care of each other and "just keep swimming."