Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Elizabeth Rotenberry always knew Chuck was her soul mate: ever since their first date in high school, his humor and love for family stole her heart.

Married for 12 years with four children, Chuck and Elizabeth have always overcome the ups and downs of marriage and moved forward together. But it wasn’t until Chuck was injured in combat that they would be so severely tested and their family strength shaken.

In 2011, while serving in Afghanistan as a Marine Staff Sergeant, an IED exploded within three feet of Chuck, driving shrapnel into his face and neck. Instead of being sent to a major medical facility, he was bandaged and tested for cognitive impairment, then allowed to return to work.

Neither Chuck nor Elizabeth could have anticipated the extent of psychological damage the blast had caused and the behavioral issues to come.

It was much later, after Chuck’s symptoms and behaviors caused terrible strains on their marriage and their family’s well-being, that Elizabeth insisted Chuck seek help.

Although their tight family unit was under intense pressure, Chuck instead chose to suddenly transition out of the service and into civilian life. Elizabeth didn’t know what was happening with her husband, and had to process the shock of his decision along with the stress of leaving behind the comfort and familiarity of the military, a place where they had built their life together.

Elizabeth felt lost as she searched for answers, looking for help in any place she could and pursuing any type of medication that promised help for Chuck.

Stumbling onto the VA Caregiver Program, they finally learned that Chuck had severe PTSD and mild to moderate TBI. The diagnosis put all the painful times of the past into perspective, and helped the family begin to heal, knowing what they were dealing with and how to help each other cope.

Elizabeth learned that she was a “caregiver,” and it empowered her to probe for more insights and information on her husband’s conditions.

With newfound awareness of ways to mitigate sensory overload—and finding some relief from options such as Hyberbaric Oxygen Therapy— Chuck is now able to function in settings previously too difficult for him.

Their turnabout ignited a passion in Elizabeth to help other military families avoid the turmoil her family endured in the absence of a prompt medical diagnosis. As a Dole Caregiver Fellow, she now has the opportunity to realize that passion.

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