Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Scholarship Recipient Shares its Impact on Her Family, Career, & Future

In an interview with Hope For The Warriors®, former Spouse/Caregiver Scholarship recipient, Elizabeth Wilkins, shares the scholarship's impact on her education, her family, and her future.

What university or certification program did you attend and when did you graduate? 

I just graduated on May 17, 2015 with a Master’s Degree in Family Therapy from the University of Houston–Clear Lake in Houston, TX.

How did you hear about the scholarship program?

I first heard about the Spouse/Caregiver Scholarship Program through a forum for caretakers of wounded warriors called Hearts of Valor, which is operated by Operation Homefront. In the forum, caretakers could share their experience, ask questions, or just have a safe place to vent, knowing that anyone who read their post would understand much more of what they were experiencing than the majority of people they might encounter that day. There was also a section for sharing the names of programs, scholarships, etc. that could be beneficial to the wounded warrior or his or her spouse, which is where I saw a list of scholarships for spouses of veterans.

In what branch of service did your spouse serve?

My husband was in the Army from 2004-2008. He was injured in an IED attack in Ramadi, Iraq in 2007 and was medically discharged.

How did the Spouse/Caregiver Scholarship impact your education?

Receiving the Bonnie Amos Scholarship greatly impacted not only my education but also my emotional well-being. At the time, my family was struggling financially and the severity of my husband’s PTSD symptoms had increased to what felt like an unbearable level. Receiving the scholarship was such a blessing, as it kept our other resources from having to stretch quite so thin. Additionally, the scholarship gave me a much-needed emotional boost. I was physically and emotionally exhausted from the constant battle with the VA to get my husband the help he needed. I remember feeling that nothing in any part of my world was working. I also remember how wonderfully validating it felt when after all this, someone decided I was worthy of the award.

How did the scholarship affect your family? 

The scholarship positively affected my family and marriage by allowing me to continue to focus on and pursue my passions without having to stretch our financial resources quite so thin. Additionally, since it was a scholarship for spouses and caregivers, my husband, who was really struggling with his PTSD at the time, was able to feel like he was able to offer something that I wouldn't have qualified for without his service. Feeling that he was able to contribute in that round about way was helpful for him and in turn beneficial to our relationship. 

What are your future career goals? 

My goal right now is to find a job! But in all seriousness, I want to continue offering therapy to individuals and families who need it, whether that is through a community health agency or private practice. I also want to continue working with veterans and their families in some form. It seems that my experience as the spouse of a veteran has been beneficial in working with other spouses and families who know that I understand at least a little of what they're going through. 

I'm also very interested in integrating a form of biofeedback therapy called neurofeedback into my practice at some point in the future. My husband began doing neurofeedback to treat his PTSD and TBI about six months ago, and the results have been amazing. I'd love to become trained and certified to offer that in conjunction with traditional psychotherapy. 

How do you foresee the scholarship impacting your career?

When I decided to return to school, I knew I wanted to work in some form with veterans’ families. Knowing I wasn’t the only spouse of a veteran living with the effects of PTSD, I wanted to help other families who were experiencing the same or similar difficulties. More and more focus has been given to the increasing need for veterans’ mental health care, but little focus has been placed on those who live with or take care of those veterans. It was those spouses, children, or parents I wanted to work with in particular. The scholarship played a large role in helping me gain the training and experience necessary to accomplish those goals.

Elizabeth and her husband, Joel

Elizabeth now serves other military spouses and caregivers as a Spouse/Caregiver Scholarship committee member and works as a marriage and family therapist and neurofeedback therapist at an interdisciplinary clinic.

"I felt so helped and validated by the program when I received the scholarship, and I feel honored to be able to participate and give back," Elizabeth shared. 

Thank you, Elizabeth, for sharing your story!

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