NAVAL SUPPORT ACTIVITY BETHESDA, Md. (Aug. 18, 2015) — In such cases where severely wounded, ill or injured troops are incapable of fully managing their day-to-day affairs on their own, the military offers the option of non-medical attendants, or NMAs, who serve as live-in caregivers to help these troops as they continue treatment and work to recover.
For Warrior Transition Brigade-National Capital Region, or WTB-NCR, Soldiers at Naval Support Activity Bethesda, or NSAB, NMAs can be a godsend, said Linda Rasnake, a WTB-NCR Family readiness support assistant.
“Once a wounded, ill, or injured Soldier gets here, not all of them need an NMA, but for those that do, the NMAs assist with daily living, which can be things like getting someone from their bed to a [wheel] chair, feeding them and in some cases clothing them,” Rasnake said. “When a warrior gets injured, their whole lives have changed, either emotionally or physically or whatever the case may be, whether from a TBI [traumatic brain injury] or from something like PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder].”
“They may not be able to remember to take their pills or remember what appointments they have to go to each day. The WTB Soldier’s job while here is to recover, so their major responsibility is to get to their appointments, and later on down the road, to work on their transition either back to active duty or on to civilian life,” Rasnake said. “The NMAs help them to get them through their daily routine so there are no hiccups and also assist them in their transition.”
Along with helping with the normal daily activities of shopping, cleaning, cooking, laundry and assisting patients with appointments, NMAs help prepare medications, ensuring proper dosage for patients and keeping them on schedule for taking their medication.
They are also required to motivate patients to work on their transition plans to include such things as future employment/education goals, keep up their spirits and serve as an advocate for the Soldier with regard to medical and administrative issues.
Christy Blankenship, an NMA, said the best part of being a caregiver has been aiding the recovery of her friend of six years, Sgt. Eric Osborne, a licensed practical nurse and patient with the WTB-NCR, who was sent to NSAB in July 2014, after an accident fractured his ankle, left fibula, right tibia, lateral hip, pelvis and two places in his back.
“As a civilian, it’s easier for me to advocate and deal with the military for [Osborne], and with appointments, because sometimes he forgets,” Blankenship said. “So I’ll help take some of the stress off him by talking with his nurse case manager and making an appointment so he doesn’t have to remember.”
“It can be a hard job, taking up a lot of time, but I enjoy it. When he was first here, he was having three or four appointments a day, but now he is progressing, getting stronger and more independent,” Blankenship said. “The rewards have been that I get to see him getting better and gaining back his independence as he becomes able to do more things for himself.”
In order to aid in Osborne’s psychological well-being, Blankenship said she needed to break up the monotony and tedium of the daily routine by finding recreational activities for him to do.
“When you’re here, your life is on hold and you’re not doing what you want to do, so you need to do things to keep your spirits up and take a break from appointments,” Blankenship said. “We try to do things like going to the movies, taking a trip or eating a meal in Baltimore.”
Doctors, nurse case managers and others work with the local command to make determinations on whether a patient’s case warrants an NMA.
NMAs can be members of a person’s immediate Family such as a spouse, sibling or parent. In some cases, the NMA may be a friend or someone assigned by the command to the service member. Once approved as an NMA, the caregiver receives orders allowing them to live on base with their Soldier.
Having arrived to NSAB on NMA orders in July 2014, Rachel Williams looks after her daughter, Spc. Allyson Williams, a combat medic, who arrived to NSAB for treatment in April 2014 after suffering tears in her hip and issues with her pelvis requiring major surgeries.
“It can be difficult as a parent not knowing what’s going on, especially when I was back home in Massachusetts and she (Allyson) was here,” said Rachel, who hails from Merrimac, Massachusetts. “But being here now as her NMA, I can actually watch her doing physical therapy and can see the progress she’s making.”
Although NMAs are not required to have medical training, there are five training modules available to them which focus on NMA duties along with information about base amenities they are permitted to use while on NMA orders.
Soldiers, who benefit from having live-in care givers, said they are appreciative of the NMA program.
“It’s nice to have an NMA, especially on those days when I’m in a wheel chair [for a long] time and my arms get really tired. So having someone else push the chair has been great,” said Osborne, who hails from Michigan City, Indiana. “The normal tasks that take people a few seconds to do, take me much longer, so it’s a great help to have someone who can do those things.”
“Having an NMA is kind of a love, hate type thing for me because it’s hard being an independent person and then having to go back to relying on someone else for everything,” Allyson said. “But I honestly don’t know what I would have done without having my mom here helping me especially after all the types of surgeries I’ve had this last year. Having an NMA is a vital part of recovery, especially for emotional stability and peace of mind.”