The Road to Independence

Excerpted from Project Sanctuary’s “Mission Brief,” Volume 1, 2017, about life-changing work our supporters make possible during follow up after the retreat 

Joel poses with a military vehicle in Iraq, where he was deployed from 2003-2005.

Like many military families, life for Tiffany and Joel had fallen into a very predictable pattern. Joel, a disabled Army veteran, required nearly around-the-clock care to ensure his numerous medications were taken correctly and on time. Tiffany, his wife and caregiver, was always there to facilitate the task. While deployed to Iraq from 2003-2005, Joel was injured in multiple improvised explosive device (IED) strikes. During one strike in particular, Joel suffered a severe traumatic brain injury (TBI) as a result of the explosion. Miraculously Joel survived, but the beatings his body took would forever change his, and Tiffany’s, life.

Today Joel’s TBI commonly causes bouts of vertigo, and he lives with post-traumatic stress in addition to numerous physical injuries. “It’s been different and hard not doing the things that I used to or in the ways I used to,” he explained. Tiffany agreed, sharing that the activities Joel once enjoyed, eating out at restaurants and even just leaving the house, can sometimes be a struggle. “It has been a learning process to identify those triggers and learn what we need to do to either avoid or be prepared for them.”

At the recommendation of another military couple-friends of Tiffany and Joel’s-they applied for Project Sanctuary’s two-year program, albeit cautiously. “At first we were hesitant,” recalled Tiffany, after a previous program they’d attended had left them feeling overwhelmed. “We spent more time in the hotel room.” But after arriving at Project Sanctuary and becoming acquainted with the retreat team and other families, they immediately felt at ease.

Tiffany and Joel with service dog “Kazu” at Project Sanctuary retreat #102 in Colorado.

During a conversation with a team member one evening, Joel and Tiffany opened up about their daily routine, with Joel’s medication regime taking a central focus. “We talked about how it would be nice for me to be able to get away and allow Joel to do his medication on his own, because with his injuries he forgets,” Tiffany shared. The following morning, Joel and Tiffany received the news that Project Sanctuary was purchasing an electronic medication dispenser for them to ensure accurate and timely delivery of Joel’s pills.

Now Tiffany simply loads Joel’s medications and programs the device to release them according to each prescription. An alarm on the device sounds when a dose is due, and won’t stop until he takes them. “That has been life  changing for us,” shared Tiffany. “Being his caregiver, I want him to be as independent as he can, and that gives him a piece of independence back.”

For Joel, the medication dispenser is as much about restoring Tiffany’s independence, adding that it’s even allowed her the opportunity to take a weekend trip with her girlfriends recently. “It’s nice to not need to have her remind me to do medications.”


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