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MilSpouse Spotlight – Transition Tips from a Caregiver

Military Spouses often become full-time caregivers for their service member after transitioning out of the military.  The transition from military to civilian life is challenging, and adding to that the complications of physical and emotional injury can be traumatic, and surely life changing.  Dawna Barber, a successful caregiver advocate, shares her tips for preparing for military transition:


Tell us a bit about yourself:

I am a wife, a mom, a grandma, an entrepreneur and an advocate. I love to help people be who they are meant to be and to live lives that are as individual as they are. I believe in living a real authentic life no matter where that takes us. So, when you see me around on social media or in person you never have to wonder what is real. Life is messy and hard, beautiful and abundant; I choose to find the joy in all of it. 


What branch did your spouse serve? 

My husband served in 3 branches across 20 years; The US Air Force, The US Navy Reserve and The US Army.


What is the most rewarding part of being a military spouse? 

The most rewarding part of being a military spouse for me has been the ability to help other military spouses navigate deployments, benefits, problems and just life in general as it comes with the military.


Most challenging?

The most challenging part of being a military spouse has always been seeing issues within the Military/Veteran Community, knowing how they could be resolved, and not having a recognized platform to be able to effect change. Wondering if I should have or could have helped just one more person in some way. 


Tell us a little about transitioning from military to civilian life.

Transition in our case took place in 2012, right at the very beginning of the VA attempting to integrate systems with the Med Board process that the military uses. It was also fraught with political drama around the military trying to save money by changing PTSD diagnosis of soldiers right before they med boarded. Thus, I learned very rapidly to always read the policies and to firmly request (and often demand) that they be followed to the letter. 


Once we had our official ETS date we started looking at all the questions about where our family would live. That is a whole process that I developed that if anyone is interested in, I would love to share it. Just drop me an email! 


The process for us was scary and was emotionally exhausting. I was making most of the decisions for our family by myself, because Glenn was not able to help. However, 5 years almost to the day from when I made those choices; and I chose to follow my instincts rather than listen to the popular opinion, we are individually all in better places and as a unit we are exponentially better.


This is what I want to share with other military families, a path that with some hard work can lead to a life designed to meet their individual needs; a life that can bring with it a measure of peace and security.


What do you wish you would have done differently?

I wish I would have understood that it is okay for me to set solid boundaries in my life, boundaries that not only layout what is okay relationally but also ones that help me recognize when I need to step back and just be still in the moment to prevent emotional and physical burn out. I wish I would have recognized sooner that my family is healthier if I take time to pursue what I am passionate about. 


What tips would you give a military spouse preparing for transition?

Tips for spouses in transition:

  1. Keep a paper copy of ALL medical records for ALL family members.
  2. Get 90-day prescription refills from the base pharmacy the last week that you are on the installation.
  3. Budget for a 3-6 month pay gap between active duty pay and retirement/disability pay
  4. Always be ready to ask for help and delegating tasks.
  5. Ask someone here at MilSpouse ADU to get you a list of available resources if you don’t know where to look!


After your husband’s injuries, you became his full-time caregiver.  Can you share how you successfully took on this role and balanced family life?


Tips for taking on the role of a caregiver….

  1. Get a general POA and a medical POA, you will accomplish NOTHING at the VA or any other HIPPA covered / Federal Facility without them. Get them BEFORE your final day on your installation, and then update them every 6 months or annually as needed. 
  2. Develop a system early on to keep track of all things Veteran Care related. You will want to keep your POAs, a copy of the DD214, a copy of the disability ratings from the DOD and the VBA, as well as any current medical referrals and treatment notes. 
  3. Remember that no matter what people tell you about government VA systems tell you, you and your spouse are ALWAYS the first and last line of defense when it comes to advocating for the best care.
  4. Always have a list ready that you can give someone if they ask how they can help you. There is NO shame in this.   

Tips for balancing family life…

  1. Be real with your family members / children about what the injuries and issues are. They won’t be able to help you if they do not understand. 
  2. Recognize that life now will never look like it did back when…. So a new plan is needed!
  3. Self-Care… you need it, it will keep you sane and healthy which will keep your family in the best place possible
  4. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box, you don’t have to fit in with the “cultural norms” do what is best for your family.


What tips would you give a caregiver?

There is no law that states a caregiver registered with the VA Caregiver program cannot work outside the home, however it is often difficult for that to happen; so seriously look at working from home. I wish I had done it 5 years ago. It would have saved me quite a few struggles. 


Rapid Response Answers:

Favorite book: Isaiah


Favorite quote: But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not be faint.


Favorite self-care tip: Whatever you choose to do it should leave you feeling refreshed and energized, not stressed and exhausted.  


Time management tool: timer on my apple watch


Cannot live without: Coffee, coffee, coffee and the calendar on my iPhone  


Resource for military transition: Semper Fi Fund/Americas Fund:


Resource for Caregivers: Elizabeth Dole Foundation has tons of information:

Phil Randazzo


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