Caring for the caregiver: Resource center provides help for families of wounded warriors

SAN DIEGO - The highest concentration of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans is in  San Diego.

Many of those wounded in the wars, end up at Naval Medical Center San Diego. But after their treatment, they go home to their families -- who end up taking on the challenge of caring for them.

One group is stepping in to help the caregivers of wounded warriors.

"We didn't think it would happen to us, but it did," said Jessica Bleigh.

Her husband, Tim, a Navy corpsman, was assigned to a Marine patrol in Sangin, Afghanistan in 2011.

They set out in vehicles and were hit hard by an IED -- the bomb rolling over Tim's vehicle. They all survived, but just barely.

"He was stuck in a wheelchair, he couldn't walk, he couldn't drive by himself, he couldn't read," said Jessica.

The blast left Tim with spinal compression, broken bones, traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress.

"There was no normal at that point," she said.

Jessica said Tim was not the husband he was when he went to war. And it was up to her to hold everything together.

"I didn't know what the next month was going to be or what the next year was going to be," she said.

That's when Southern Caregiver Resource Center came in to help Jessica and her family.

"Nobody talks to [caregivers] about what is it that you need, what is it that you're going through," said Executive Director Lorie Van Tilburg.

The center was created in 1987 to help families dealing with Alzheimer's disease. In 2007, Van Tilburg went to the Pentagon and met families of wounded warriors.

"They're so young like Jessica and their whole life has changed and going forward, their lives will be very different," she said.

Jessica said that since connecting with a resource counselor, her family became better equipped to confront the challenges they faced.

"They put you back together," she said.

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