Natalie Baker fell in love with her husband Barnard when she was 20. He was a "laid back, affectionate, down-to-earth guy." she recalls. B oth looked forward to a happy life together. Little did they realize how much the war in Iraq would affect their dreams.
Barnard joined the Army and their first daughter was born in 2003. A year later, he was in Iraq under frequent mortar attacks, some of which killed or maimed fellow soldiers. He came home in 2005 a changed man. He sleep-walked, had nightmares and suffered pounding headaches. At the VA hospital they said his symptoms would disappear. He was honorably discharge in 2006.
Barnard then worked as a contract security guard overseas but had to return home because of continuing symptoms including insomnia and memory problems. He was irritable and felt "off balance." He and Natalie began arguing. "I cried all the time because I didn't know what to do or say," she recalls.
The VA hospital staff identified an "adjustment disorder, depression and anxiety." Bernard received a diagnosis of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and filed a VA compensation claim. He was deemed eligible for 60 percent disability pay. Natalie researched everything from TBI to Social Security disability while Barnard worried about how to support his family. He returned overseas to work and for a time things got better. There were visits home, a second daughter was born, and the family purchased a condo in Tacoma, WA.
But soon Bernard's symptoms worsened. "I realized how much he had changed," Natalie says. "He ignored the kids and became irritable with our daughter when he couldn't understand a simple paragraph or do a third grade math problem. His personal hygiene deteriorated. His sleep became erratic." When Natalie tried to discuss the situation Bernard "exploded in rage."
Natalie was at a breaking point. "I was becoming this person I didn't like. It wasn't good for the kids." The VA was little help. As Natalie puts it, "The doctors were making Barnard even angrier because he had this disability that was invisible but was killing him inside." Barnard told Natalie he considered suicide because he felt so worthless.
Barnard was admitted to a psychiatric hospital where he was diagnosed with TBI and PTSD. Later a diagnosis of vestibular migraine was added. M edication didn't help. Natalie felt frightened and depressed. "I asked myself, Why me? I don't want to be here. I want to run away. But then I thought about Barnard. He didn't ask to be this way. It wasn't his fault he has this horrible disability. Now I feel sad for him. I wish I could take it all away and he could be that charming, sweet, loving person I met all those years ago."
Because Natalie is Barnard's caregiver, she is unable to work outside the home. She and Barnard continue seeking full disability benefits. Recently, Natalie began receiving some health benefits from the VA as a caregiver. But s oon the family may have to relinquish their condo.
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