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VCI takeover of veterans caregiver program a success

Tribune-Democrat - 12/2/2018

Dec. 02--When military personnel return home from combat situations, their young spouses, parents or other loved ones can suddenly find themselves needing to provide care to individuals who face a wide range of physical and mental challenges, including post-traumatic stress disorder and wounded bodies riddled with pain.

Dealing with those issues, while handling day-to-day needs -- raising children, running errands, working, maintaining friendships -- can become overwhelming.

And that is where Operation Family Caregiver, a nationwide program with a Cambria County-based chapter, helps.

Veteran Community Initiatives took over operations of the local OFC program just about one year ago. The organization provides the caregivers with counseling, along with insight about how to balance schedules and provide their loved ones -- both active military and veterans of all ages -- the emotional and physical support they need.

"We're helping them to take better care of themselves so they can take better care of their veterans because many caregivers are under a lot of stress," said Tina Pelesky, supervisor of VCI's Operation Family Caregiver program.

Pelesky said developing "structure is very important because they're dealing with a lot of different issues."

"It's just a very different regiment because veterans come home and they're on a strict schedule," Pelesky said.

"They've always been on a schedule. They're prepared to work and do things a certain way, and sometimes I think that's hard for caregivers to manage because that veteran is used to military style. If you're the spouse -- and your husband is trying to run the house like the military -- there tends to be some tension because kids don't always want to do everything that way."

The counseling can be done in person, over the telephone or via video chat, which has enabled Pelesky and another local coach to provide help to caregivers as close as Johnstown and as far away as Florida.

They have received more than two dozen referrals throughout 2018 and hope to have about 10 caregivers complete the months-long program by year's end.

VCI is also looking for more local coaches, who, if selected, would be trained by the national OFC program.

"That coaching person is someone that really listens and supports them," Pelesky said.

Operation Family Caregiver, a part of the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving, has helped more than 850 clients across the country since its founding in 2012.

"I feel like it's a really great program," said Lezlie Poole, Operation Family Caregiver's nationwide program manager.

"I feel like it's really impacting a lot of lives. And I think that it's really changing the face of how we deal with military caregiving for those individuals that we can provide them problem-solving skills, and stress management, and coping skills and letting them see that it's OK to take care of themselves so they can take care of everybody else.

"It's important that they do that."

Anybody interested in participating in the free and confidential program -- whether as a client or a coach -- can contact Pelesky at 814-255-0355.

Dave Sutor is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at (814) 532-5056. Follow him on Twitter @Dave_Sutor.

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(c)2018 The Tribune-Democrat (Johnstown, Pa.)

Visit The Tribune-Democrat (Johnstown, Pa.) at www.tribune-democrat.com

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