Vail Veterans Program Brings Caregiver Retirements Back
The Vail Veterans Program is wrapping up a winter and summer of beneficial programs that help injured service members and their families after taking a break during COVID-19. Although the pandemic has put a stop to many things, injured service members and their families are still going through their daily struggles.
This year, there were the on-snow programs which used adapted ski and snowboard equipment as needed to allow injured people to enjoy the slopes of Vail and Beaver Creek. The Vail Veterans Program runs winter and summer programs for individual vets as well as programs that invite the whole family to share in the experience.
In 2015, the Vail Veterans Program developed the Military Caregiver Retreat, which is designed to provide specific support to caregivers supporting injured military veterans. Military Caregiver Reunion Programs have been added to build on the information shared during Caregiver Retreat Programs, with a focus on resilience.
“Both programs offer tailored nutrition and wellness workshops, stress management tools, financial seminars, self-care and reflection time, and most importantly, provide the opportunity to cultivate a deep network support and connections between caregivers,” said Jen Brown, executive. director of Vail’s veterans program.
The Vail Veterans Program hosted 11 caregivers for the Military Caregivers Retreat in mid-September and 17 attendees at the Military Caregivers Reunion this past weekend.
Support local journalism
Megan West was one of those participants. She is the carer for her husband, James West, a retired staff sergeant. She attended one of the previous military caregiver retreats and the family program.
“We first heard about the Vail Veterans Program when we were at Brooke Army Medical Center,” said Megan West.
James West was seriously injured with burns from the waist on June 2, 2006 in Iraq. The couple spent four and a half years in San Antonio, Texas, at Brooke Army Medical Center and the Center for the Intrepid, doing rehabilitation surgeries and physical therapy. He had gone solo in the Vail Veterans programs before the family was invited back to Vail.
“The Winter Family Retreat was so caring and our family was able to reconnect after going through so much trauma. It was very meaningful to us and we were able to focus on each other and be with other people who understood said Megan West.
The family returned for a summer program and it was just as rejuvenating. But the caregiver programs are what really resonate with West.
“You can really talk about what caregivers are going through specifically and develop a support system with each other and you have them to talk to and check in with,” Megan West said. “And (Vail Veterans Program founder Cheryl Jensen) has become like family to us, she’s seen our family grow, she’s looked after us, and those things are very important to us.”
At the Caregivers Reunion Program, participants return to Vail to participate in a resilience training workshop with trainers from the Johnson & Johnson Human Performance Institute. Resilience training prepares military caregivers to approach stress management in innovative and proactive ways.
“A carer’s journey never ends and it’s a roller coaster, you don’t know what to expect. It’s the first time we’ve gone through all these wounds, it was quite traumatic. But it’s still a process, we learn things as we get older and how it still affects each of us because those effects don’t go away,” Megan West said.
Breakout sessions, writing, and challenging questions help participants learn more about themselves and what their self-talk looks like.
“Are we hard on ourselves? Because we tend to be our own worst critics. So ask yourself, ‘Would I say something like that to my best friend?’ Probably not. So we have to start thinking, ‘Well, I wouldn’t say that to my best friend, why would I say that to myself?’ It’s not true. So that’s a great way to look at it,” Megan West said.
There’s also time to enjoy the outdoors with a raft trip and hikes, spa treatments and group meals where caregivers can bond even more.
These skills are meant to be taken with them and incorporated into their everyday world. Megan West said she shares the skills she learns here with her husband and children, who are now 17, 14 and 10.
“You feel refreshed when you leave, you’re ready to go home and do your best and practice those things you’ve learned and even share them with your spouse sometimes, ‘Hey, I learned that, let’s talk about it and how it affects both of us, how it affects the family. It makes a difference,” Megan West said.
Similar to other Vail Veterans Program offerings, Military Caregiver Programs are offered free of charge to participants and are funded by generous Vail Veterans Program partners, sponsors and donors.
“I’m just so grateful to have the opportunity to be a part of this program and to come back and be able to put what we’re learning to good use,” said Megan West. “It’s so meaningful to know that people care about us. I will never forget the Vail Veterans Program because the Vail Veterans Program has never forgotten me.
To learn more about the programs and how to get involved or donate, go to VailVeteransProgram.org.