A Military Wife and Family Caregiver
By Britnee Kinard
When I married Hamilton I knew I was signing up to be a military wife, but I could not have imagined the challenges we would face as a couple and later as a family. I am a graduate of the Middle Tennessee State University and was working my way up the management hierarchy in banking, enjoying cheerleading and finding time to travel and sing because I had won two recording deals.
My husband was deployed to Iraq in 2004 and 2005 and was closely involved with over 13 improvised explosive devices (IEDs). On March 15, 2005, Hamilton was directly hit by an IED and suffered many injuries – the main ones are his traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and total nerve damage. I could fill a book with the challenges we experienced with Veterans Affairs (VA), who at that time did not offer a caregiver program. We waited six years for the military to make a partial decision about Hamilton’s injuries and medical claim. Finally they agreed on five of his injuries, but have still not agreed to assist our family with the other injuries he suffered in Iraq.
However, in 2012 the VA did agree that he cannot work, cannot be left home alone and needs a full-time caregiver – which is me. Caring for him is far more important than any job or recording contract, but it has been hard because the VA took so long to help us. If it had not been for my husband’s father – a Vietnam veteran with a disability – we would have been homeless.
In 2014, the VA told my husband that he needed a mobility service animal. The VA approves service animals for soldiers needing seeing eye dogs, hearing dogs, spinal cord injury and TBI assistant dogs.
When we got Gunner, my husband’s service dog, the VA said they wouldn’t cover the expense – it was unbelievable. I looked into all of the federal regulations and laws, kept reapplying and eventually I asked a friend for help with our appeal.
Sergeant Major Jesse Acosta interviewed with me about the VA’s policies on service animals for a Savannah TV news channel. Jesse lost his vision and needs his service animal, Charlie-Boy. After the story aired, I got a letter from the VA saying that Gunner had been approved. That was about 18 months from the date that we started the process.
But our story isn’t unique. We saw that other families were struggling with the VA and soldiers were losing out because they couldn’t afford to keep service animals without VA funding.
I can’t imagine what our lives would be like without Gunner, so we started the SD Gunner Fund in June 2014. It’s a nonprofit organization to financially assist others with owning and caring for much needed service animals.
A Common Cause
Hamilton and I also have two children. In 2012, my oldest son, Blayne was two-years-old and was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, receptive – expressive language disorder, Sensory Processing Disorder and Oppositional Defiant Disorder. He also has a rare medical condition called Stevens-Johnson syndrome, for which there is no cure, so unattended we run the risk of losing him.
That same year, we also had our second son, Maks. I threw Blayne into every kind of therapy there was. We applied for grants to help provide autism services and I realized that if we were having a hard time, then other families must be having a terrible time – especially those who don’t have a guaranteed insurance plan like we do through the military.
We had Gunner co-trained to assist Blayne to alert us if he ever got too far from me and to obey a command to find him if he did bolt from us. That was a huge relief knowing that I had a second set of eyes to help me with Blayne. To assist more families, we added service dogs for children with disabilities to the mission of the SD Gunner Fund. Our nonprofit organization now provides emergency financial assistance for service dogs and mobility devices.
The Life of A Caregiver
Every family is different. Every soldier is different. Every child is different. Every reaction is different. You have to find that happy medium and, no, it’s not going to happen overnight. It’s going to be something you actually have to experience and work through.
To learn more about the SD Gunner Fund, visit SDGunnerFund.com
The Lincoln Awards: A Concert for Veterans & the Military Family recognizes outstanding achievement and excellence in providing opportunities and support to our nation’s veterans and military families. The ceremony and award is presented by the Friars Foundation.
Bio: Britnee Kinard lives in Claxton, GA with her husband Ret. Sgt. Douglas Hamilton Kinard, their sons Blayne, 5 and Maks, 2 and service dog, Gunner. Britnee received the 2015 Lincoln Award: Caregiver Award for outstanding achievement and excellence in providing care to veterans. Britnee was among other recipients such as entertainer Bruce Springsteen and Walmart Stores, Inc. Britnee has also been recognized by Congressman Rick Allen, Senator Johnny Isakson, Governor Nathan Deal and many other politicians for her work with veterans and caregivers. Britnee is also listed in the Who’s Who of Distinguished Alumni.
Read more articles in Making a Difference's Fall 2015 issue: