Dozens of community leaders attended the event to celebrate Operation Family Caregiver on November 17

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. –Our military members are not the only ones who serve, and therefore are not the only ones who need support. Jaime Areizaga-Soto, Deputy Secretary of Veterans and Defense Affairs, spoke to the audience at the Operation Family Caregiver launch event on Tuesday about the importance of caring for our unsung heroes –the spouses, family members, friends and loved ones of active duty and veteran servicemen and women.

"We are strong, however –it's okay to ask for help," said Brandi Jancaitis, Director for Virginia Veteran and Family Support, as she addressed the spouses of active duty and veteran servicemen and women who are returning from war.

Operation Family Caregiver aims to help those unsung heroes by providing support to the families of newly returning service members and veterans by teaching them the skills they need to better manage their challenges as they adjust to a "new normal." The program in Virginia will be offered in two regions of the state: Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia, which together are home to more than 425,000 veterans.

Bill Downey, President and CEO for Riverside Health System, echoed the sentiments of the group when he explained that we all likely know someone who is currently serving or has served in the military, and as such, this is a program that has the potential to change thousands of lives. Since 2001, the United States has sent more than 2.5 million men and women to Iraq and Afghanistan, and more than 50,000 have been wounded. Beyond those visible injuries, nearly one-third of returning service members have a mental health condition or experienced a traumatic brain injury.

"Our military has been on the battlefield for longer than ever before, and there are consequences to that," said RCI's executive director Dr. Leisa Easom. "When they come home, especially with injuries, they lean heavily on their husbands and wives, parents, battle buddies, whoever can help take care of them. And that takes a lot out of a person. Being a caregiver is not easy."

For more information on Operation Family Caregiver, visit www.excellenceinaging.org or call 757-220-4751.

ABOUT OPERATION FAMILY CAREGIVER (OFC):

Operation Family Caregiver launched in 2012 with catalytic funding from Johnson &Johnson. After an initial pilot launch in 2012, it has expanded in each subsequent year and earlier this year announced a partnership with Blue Star Families that will add two additional sites. With the latest expansion, Operation Family Caregiver will be serving military families in 12 locations, including Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia, by the beginning of next year.

ABOUT RIVERSIDE HEALTH SYSTEM:

A regional leader in providing health care since 1918, Riverside Health System seeks to deliver care and services - as a team- by putting patients and residents at the center of all operations. Riverside delivers a variety of health care services and programs in the areas of prevention, acute care, aging-related services, rehabilitation, ambulatory care, diagnostic care, education, and home care.

Riverside Health System operates five acute care hospitals, a psychiatric hospital, and the largest freestanding physical rehabilitation hospital in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Its extensive Medical Group includes more than 540 providers. Ambulatory centers bring diagnostic services, physical therapy, day surgery and other services to neighborhoods served by Riverside.

Published: November 18, 2015