Those Who Care for Veterans in Syracuse Area Get Lifeline from National Program

Jul 2, 2018

Justin Muir (L) suffered a traumatic brain injury during his service in the marines. His wife Kristin (background) is his caregiver. Justin speaks with Bob McLean, Veterans Service Agency.
Credit Scott Willis/WAER News

It can be difficult and lonely being the caregiver for a veteran or member of the military here in Central New York … but some help and support is now available.  Kristin Muir is taking care of her husband Justin, who spent two tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Some days he does really well and some days are really hard.  Sometimes he needs help getting out of bed; sometimes he needs to be stretched.  A lot of times it’s emotional helping him with his flashbacks and memories and just trying to keep him back on track.”

Justin was diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury and started having seizures shortly after re-enlisting in the Marines.  She remembers having two babies, while dealing with effects of trauma, including nightmares, migraines and addiction to pain medication.  And it doesn’t stop there.

“…flashbacks, nightmares, disassociative episodes, ambulances, police, anger, rage, suicidal ideations, depression, new treatments, new therapies, new therapists.  This goes on and I am weary.  Is this my new normal, yes.  But it’s not just mine.  It’s all of ours.  There’s approximately five million caring for disabled veterans.”

That’s where Hidden Heroes comes in.  Sonia Yulfo with the Elizabeth Dole Foundation announced today Syracuse is a “Hidden Heroes Community.”  She had her own experience, caring for her dad after he was injured in 2014.

Sonia Yulfo (L) who's father is a veteran in need of care, Earl Fontenot of Clear Path for Veterans, & Kristin Muir who cares for her husband, advocate for Hidden Heroes
Credit Scott Willis/WAER News

“What I was planning for two weeks turned into two years.  Now we’re going on four years.  I didn’t end up finishing college; I ended up finishing after, but I had to quit school, quit work, just stay with my dad, (prevent) my dad from committing suicide.”

She explains the Hidden Heroes website connects caregivers with local non-profits for help, programs such as V-A healthcare, and other people who are going through the same struggles, for support.  Earl Fontenot with Clear Path for Veterans says the area has support for veterans, but not the caregivers.

“We think often about self-care and we use the airplane analogy of ‘put the mask on first’.  We often use that analogy with veterans and those of us that get paid to take care of veterans on a daily basis.  But we never actually shine that light on caregivers.  Thanks to the Elizabeth Dole Foundation and the Hidden Heroes program, nationally that light is getting put on the people that have been silently taking care of veterans when they return home from war.”

Kristin Muir, who’s caring for her husband Justin, is reminded of his struggles during Fourth of July, when he has to avoid crowds and drown out sounds of fireworks because of his trauma.  She encourages caregivers to seek help through the HiddenHeroes.org website.  Syracuse is one of more than 100 Hidden Heroes communities.