Getting the physical and emotional health support they need may be easier for those still on active duty, such as Doug McCarron, who returned from Iraq after a blast injury led to a toe amputation and shrapnel wounds in one leg caused nerve damage. McCarron works on a base near his home in Whittier, Calif., but is still healing.
"I have phantom pains, nerve pain, walking challenges. I strain to hear," says McCarron, 39, who also wrestles with post-traumatic stress. His wife of one year, Cherish, 32, soothes him when he has nightmares, but he worries about causing her distress.
Even if they want to, family members may not be prepared to help injured veterans, says Paul Larson, professor of psychology at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology, which works with veterans and their relatives as part of The Yellow Ribbon Project, developed last year with the Illinois Army National Guard. "They come at it as best they can with common-sense wisdom, but there's this gap between recognizing a behavior, like aggression and irritability, and actually handling it," Larson says.
Some families, such as the Edmundsons, have turned to non-profit groups. The National Military Family Association offers healing adventure camps for families where they can share experiences and are given resources.
The Woodruff Foundation funnels donations to community-based projects that support injured veterans and their families in their hometowns.
Larson says caregivers can relieve burnout by creating times of emotional distance between themselves and the patient.
Sutton says it's important to keep hope alive, too. "Troops wage war. Healers wage hope."
The Edmundsons are doing just that. "We made it a goal to protect the nucleus of our family," Ed says. But as their medical bills and house and car repairs pile up, he says, a little extra help would be embraced: "We're holding out and hoping for the caregivers legislation."