Stephanie Hall is no stranger to caring for wounded veterans.
She learned much during her first marriage to a wounded Army veteran. When she met her second husband Terrance in 2015, also an Army veteran, he was going through the Veterans Treatment Court for his alcohol dependency and was not attending his PTSD treatment program regularly.
He first had been injured in Iraq in 2007 when his vehicle hit an IED. He was injured again in Afghanistan in 2012 when a vehicle exploded just outside his forward operating base.
Though he has been sober for more than three years and mentors other veterans with the same post-war issues, Hall said she must still adjust their lives to deal with his post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.
“When we first started dating, we came to the understanding that he could not live with someone 24/7, especially [with] me having younger children, because of his PTSD,” said Hall, adding that between the two of them they have five children ranging in age from 11 to 26.
So, her husband maintains a small cabin about 45 minutes away from their home in the Mount Pleasant area of central Michigan. Hall said he goes there to get the space he needs to function “normally.” But, as he suffers from memory loss, she still cares for him regularly. She makes his appointments. She accompanies him on medical visits to make sure he tells the doctors what they need to know.
“He gets frustrated easily because sometimes what he wants to say doesn’t come out right,” she said.
Then, a recent flood caused an unfortunate setback. It not only destroyed the cabin but also drained the nearby lake where he often took solace in fishing. Hall said all the destruction and smells reminded him of Iraq and he required some mental health counseling. Now, he is living in the garage next to the cabin.
She describes her education as spotty while juggling her multiple roles—military spouse, mother, caregiver. She earned her GED in 2001, then studied to become a certified nursing assistant. Hall now works as a special education teaching assistant at a local public school.
“I tried to go back, and tried to go back, and I kept hitting roadblocks, hitting walls,” she said of her attempts to get a degree. “And then every time I would try to get a job, they would say, ‘You have to have a degree,’ even though I had more experience than people with degrees.”
Hall said she plans to use her Pillars of Strength scholarship to earn a bachelor’s degree in business. She believes the degree and the experience she has gained as the elected president of the nonprofit Warriors and Caregivers United, will help boost the business she is starting with her husband—Connect to Heal.
Much of her volunteer time is devoted to helping other caregivers. Last year Hall was selected as the Elizabeth Dole caregiver fellow for the state of Michigan. Hall also is part of the Michigan governor’s challenge to help create new statewide policies and procedures to prevent suicide among veterans and their families.
She spoke to the value of the Pillars of Strength Scholarship Program. “I work with many organizations across the state of Michigan, speaking at many functions about the struggles and roadblocks military and veterans’ caregivers face,” Hall said. “But without the scholarship, I would not have the money to finish a degree.”