Veteran Caregiver Support

Caregiver Support Coordinator Karen Gliebe (left) and OEF/OIF/OND Case Manager Tom Parsons (right) helped assist the Zreliak family (center) get the services they need and have earned.

by Amanda M. Wilczynski


Martha Schanno has a full-time job as a Sales Manager for SAE International. She is also a full-time caregiver for her mother, Joan Dunlap, 86-year old Navy Veteran. After Joan took a bad fall, she moved in with her daughter Martha and began treatment at VA Butler Healthcare.

“I’m the one that gets her groceries, takes care of her bills, does her laundry, gets her where she needs to go, and worries about her – like if it’s storming outside and I’m not home, I worry about the power going out. So, I think ahead and always watch the weather and make sure there’s a portable oxygen tank ready to go if needed,” said Martha. “There’s also the guilt factor. If I decide that I want to go away for a day or two, and need to leave her at home alone, I think ‘What have I done? I’m a bad child.’ Or, if I’m late home from work, she’ll say ‘I missed you today.’ It pulls at my heart.”

Joan receives all of her care through VA Butler, and Martha utilizes our caregiver support services including  Adult Day Health Care (ADHC) and Respite Care. “Respite Care has been a lifesaver because I travel for work,” said Martha. “It’s a great relief to know that she’s not home alone while I’m traveling.”

VA Butler Healthcare understands that taking care of the Veteran you love is an incredibly demanding job. We also know that everyone deserves a guilt-free break. VA Butler offers a variety of support services for family caregivers for Veterans of all eras, and new services for post-9/11 Veterans.

Under the “Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2010,” additional VA services are now available to seriously injured post-9/11 Veterans and their Family Caregivers through a new program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers. Additional services include a stipend, mental health services, and access to health care insurance. Comprehensive Caregiver training and medical support are other key components of this program.

Caregiver Nancy Zreliak and her son, Army Veteran Brian Zreliak are the first family to receive some of the new caregiver services offered at VA Butler Healthcare and nationally.

After a terrible car accident, Brian was only given an hour to live. Now, six years later Brian has made tremendous progress, thanks to his supportive parents and the VA.

“He gets better all the time,” said his mother Nancy. “He’s come such a long way and we believe he’ll have a full recovery. We would not be where we are today if it wasn’t for the VA – they’ve been such a blessing.”

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As Brian’s primary caregiver, Nancy, like most caregivers, has good days and bad days. She believes the biggest challenge is starting the day with the right attitude. “You know it’s a long road ahead, so you need to start the day with a good attitude and always have patience, love, and faith.” One of the most important things says Nancy, is to “never give up hope.”

The Zreliak family worked with VA Butler to complete the application process for the new caregiver services. Veterans and their Family Caregivers can apply for the new services at Karen Gliebe, LCSW, VA Butler’s Caregiver Support Coordinator is available to assist with the application process and direct Veterans and their Family Caregivers to more than two dozen other programs VA offers Family Caregivers for support.

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