Vail Veterans Program’s caregivers conference helps care for the caregivers |

Vail Veterans Program’s caregivers conference helps care for the caregivers

Wives of combat veterans come to Vail to decompress and bond over shared hardships

To help
  • The Vail Veterans Program is supported by donors, corporate sponsors and volunteers. That allows all programs to be free for veterans and their families. For more information about Vail Veterans Program, including how to donate and/or volunteer, visit or call 970-476-4906.

VAIL — Candace Laguna strolled into the hotel lobby, looked around and knew she was among new friends and kindred spirits.

She’s a caregiver for her husband Frank, a Marine’s Marine injured in Iraq, as well as her terminally ill son, Antonio. There’s also the couple’s new infant baby and two other children.

She and a dozen or so other women were in Vail last week for the Vail Veterans Program’s caregivers conference. Because it takes one to know one, they were best friends before they even met.

They smiled, they hugged, laughed and cried … and did it all together from the moment they arrived until the moment they left.

“I’m with 12 beautiful ladies. They get me,” Candace said. “We’re hardcore women who suck it in. All us hard women just cried.”

Caregivers for combat veterans

They’re all caregivers for combat veterans who were injured in Iraq or Afghanistan. The people who take care of them are as heroic as those soldiers.

Their stories are as different as they are, yet they have so much in common.

Caregivers tend to give away everything to others, but let themselves go.

Like all of us, they need their people around them.

“We’re not alone, but it can be very lonely when you live from hospital appointment to rehab appointment and back to a hospital appointment,” Candace said. “Your friends may not understand. These woman do.”

For many of these women, the week in Vail was their first time away from their families since their husbands were wounded in combat.

Some husbands pushed their caregivers to come to Vail. Others were reluctant and a little insecure.

Some caregivers were a little unsure about the trip. Getting away for even a few hours can be both wonderful and terrible.

The normal stuff happens while they’re away. Candace’s husband, Frank, wondered where the migraine headache medicine was stored. The kids couldn’t find the relish.

Oh, yes, you are coming

The Center for the Intrepid and Vail Veterans Program invited the Laguna family to Vail the first time in January 2018 for the winter family program.

Frank said the sort of thing Marines and Army soldiers tend to say: “No. Someone else is more deserving.”

After 14 years in the Marines, Frank decided it was time to slow down, so he shifted to the Army where he was a staff sergeant. He would have become a warrant officer except for his Alive Day, the day he was hit and not killed.

Frank wears IDEO dynamic braces on his legs, a new technology that helps people from having limbs amputated. Prosthetist Ryan Blanck designed the Intrepid Dynamic Exoskeletal Orthosis at the Center for the Intrepid, Brooke Army Medical Center. The more progress the patient makes, the less work the brace does.

It’s sort of a miracle, except machines are not miracles, people are. A couple Septembers ago Frank pushed up out of his wheelchair, stood, and walked.

“I’m a Marine,” he said. He says that with some regularity, mostly when things get tough, which things sometimes do.

Every Vail Veterans Program session sees all kinds of miracles. Among them are Frank riding ski bikes with his son Antonio, one of only 100 people since 1968 diagnosed with ROHHAD Syndrome — rapid-onset obesity with hypothalamic dysfunction, hypoventilation and autonomic dysregulation. ROHHAD impacts the body’s ability to remind the body to breathe. It’s terminal.

We’re in it together

When Candace was invited to last week’s caregiver conference, she said she had too much to do, which is accurate.

Frank was recovering from his 13th surgery, the third on his spine. Antonio is terminally ill, she was rocking a new baby in her arms and dealing with everything else that comes with a family in progress.

Jackie Lizar and the other Vail Veterans Program folks have heard that before. They’re empathetic and countered that Candace and the other caregivers needed to decompress a little in Vail.

So they did.

“The world will not fall apart with me gone for a moment,” Candace said. “My children and husband are OK taking care of themselves and me sometimes. Fill your cup and relax. It’ll be fine. And they’ll be fine.”

Like the caregivers themselves, they’ll be fine because they’re in this together.

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