November is a notable month for our nation’s service members, Veterans, and their families (SMVF). Not only do we recognize and honor those who have served in the armed forces on Veterans Day, but November is also National Veterans and Military Families Month. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA’s) SMVF Technical Assistance (TA) Center invited Dr. Roxana Delgado to share her personal experiences and traditions as a military family member and caregiver and to provide advice on how to better support military families and caregivers within our communities. Dr. Delgado has dedicated her personal and professional life to helping ill and wounded Veterans and their caregivers succeed through extensive research. She has also created the “Military and Veterans Caregiver Portfolio” research platform. Her commitment to this work is inspired by her firsthand experience as the wife and caregiver of a combat-wounded Veteran and Purple Heart recipient.

You have dedicated a great majority of your life to helping ill and wounded Veterans and their caregivers discover ways to thrive. As the wife of a combat-wounded Veteran and a caregiver yourself, what resources did you and your family utilize that you found most beneficial? 

In 2009, I received a call no family member wanted to receive, and that day our lives changed. In 2009 there were few resources for caregivers, especially in the military and Veteran community. Since then, today, we have many resources that touch each aspect of life, from respite care to education, employment, health, wellness, and so many others. I recommend that caregivers reach out to organizations that are well-connected and spearheading programs across the nation, specifically for military and Veteran caregivers. Organizations like the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, through the Hidden Heroes Community, are creating a network of resources and partners available to attend to our community’s needs. Some caregivers live in rural communities or care for high-need Veterans with 24/7 care, so being connected to other caregivers may be challenging in person. I have found healthy connections and extensive education through the Red Cross Military and Veteran Caregiver Network. Back in the day, I also became a member of Operation Homefront, an organization that provides wellness activities. Many of the services I used at the beginning of my journey have evolved into larger endeavors. I advise caregivers to reach national directories like the PatriotLink or the Hidden Heroes Resource Directory to find the resources they need in their community or online.

As we are quickly approaching Thanksgiving and the holiday season, we recognize that military families experience unique circumstances and, thus, traditions. Are there any special traditions your family had/has during this season that you’d like to share?

Memories are essential for the family to have; it is what remains. In our home, there are many different traditions we practice daily, traditions that fill my heart with gratitude and joy. My husband brews coffee every morning, we pray together, and then we start our day. Practicing gratitude makes a huge difference, and we strive to do that. During this time of the year, my husband loves homemade cookies, so part of our tradition is baking his favorite shortbread cookies. Also, the weather in Texas is gorgeous, so our nature walks are intentional; the smell and sound of nature are relaxing. We live every day in a meaningful way; we don’t take anything for granted. Thanksgiving is still a special day for us, and instead of turkey, I please my family with the famous ham and dessert recipes I make that day. My parents are very much a part of our lives as they live close by, so they have been my best support system. We spend every memorable holiday with them. We have done various activities at our gatherings. Still, we finished a puzzle I meant to complete for Christmas last year. It was so much fun, and we laughed so much that it became a new tradition. In our home, Thanksgiving marks the start of Christmas. The caregiver journey should not be walked alone. I wish every caregiver could find the resources and support needed to live a healthy and fulfilled life.

The SMVF TA Center helps states, territories, and communities strengthen their behavioral health systems serving SMVF. What advice would you give to teams that may be considering strategies to support the mental health and well-being of caregivers and military families?

Each region will have its community, and each one will have a different cultural background. My best advice is to know your military and Veteran community well and become culturally competent to work with this unique population. Knowing better the culture and values of our community will facilitate outreach, empowerment, and influence, resulting in better outcomes. It is essential to understand that Veteran families aren’t homogenous, and it may require other than a “one size fits all” approach. I can’t emphasize the importance of identifying and understanding well the community in the region and the unique needs and challenges within that region. My husband and I created the TBI Warrior Foundation, and nothing is more important than partnering and collaborating with local organizations so we can holistically serve those in need. No organization can address the multifactorial needs of Veteran families, which is why we should strive to engage a network of partners and gain the trust of the community we serve by delivering high-quality and meaningful programs.

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