After two tours in Iraq, Killeen resident Joanna Hicks said her husband, who served in the Army, just wasn’t the same.

“When we first met, he was positive all the time, and then sometimes a switch would flip,” she said.

The couple had a young child and another on the way. Hicks was working as a substitute teacher and taking classes online, but spent most of her time at home, caring not only for their son, but also for her husband, as he dealt with the mental and emotional scars of war.

Growing more overwhelmed with her role as a caregiver, Hicks reached out for help through the local nonprofit Bring Everyone in the Zone.

She found the support her family needed through the organization’s newly established Operation Family Caregiver program, which provides resources to the caregivers of active- duty or veteran service members struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injuries or other disabilities.

Through one-on-one coaching, Hicks said she discovered ways to deal with overwhelming situations by developing a list of coping mechanisms.

“Before, we would just pack up and run away. We didn’t have any tools to use, any skill set. Now, I can figure out his triggers,” she said.

Another marked improvement, Hicks added, was the mutual effort invested, as her husband also sought help through attending the classes

at Bring Everyone in the Zone.

“Before, it was me doing it. It was more one-way, and now I can see it’s two-way. It took some time for us to get there, but I think that without that, we’d be really struggling. The communication just wasn’t all the way open like it should have been,” she said.

Operation Family Caregiver began in 2013, after realizing an unmet need in the community.

The free, evidence-based program lasts between four and six months.

“A lot of times people forget about the caregiver who is helping the veterans. We talk to them, we empower them. We sit there and listen to them, and then they come up with a good solution,” said Operation Family Caregiver coach Bill Barker.

Because of the unseen effects of many of the injuries sustained through military service, such as PTSD, families struggling with these issues, like the Hicks, go unnoticed, often causing additional health problems for the caregivers themselves.

“A lot of times the caregivers will pass away before the person that’s sick because they don’t take care of themselves. Operation Family Caregiver decreases burden and depression because it improves the ability of the caregiver, working with a coach, to do problem-solving and decision-making,” said Maureen Jouett, executive director of Bring Everyone in the Zone.

Since the program’s beginning, eight participants have completed it.

For more information about how to receive services through Operation Family Caregiver or Bring Everyone in the Zone, call Maureen Jouett at 254-681-9112.

Contact JC Jones at jcjones@kdhnews.com or 254-501-7464​

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