Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Susan Speraw

Committee Members

Sadie Hutson, Kenneth Phillips, G. Kurt Piehler


Just over two million service men and women have been deployed to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past ten years. Conservative estimates suggest that nearly one fifth of those deployed sustain a blast induced mild traumatic brain injury (TBI). Nearly half of those in the service are married, meaning a large number of spouses unexpectedly find themselves navigating a “new normal” after their partner returns from combat with ongoing sequelae from a TBI.

Ultimately, a sizeable number of spouses of Iraq combat veterans with TBIs have found themselves in the role of caregiver. The large majority of them were unprepared to take on that role. They had a limited number of resources to assist them in understanding the “new normal” and to guide them through the process of obtaining quality health care for their veteran spouses and for themselves. The purpose of this study was to describe the lived experience of the wives of Iraqi veterans with TBIs such that appropriate interventions may be crafted to support them in their role of caregiver.

A phenomenological approach was used to interview seven spouses of veterans who had a TBI from their military service in Operation Iraqi Freedom. A purposeful, snowball, networking technique was used to identify the study participants who met with a single researcher for one face-to-face interview lasting between 30 and 90 minutes. The interview narratives were analyzed for meaning units and subsequently five figural themes were identified: Change and Difference, Making Sense, Redefinition, Alone, and Commitment-Perseverance. The contextual ground for the five figural themes was one of Shifting Sands. The predominant experiences of the participants took place against in the existential element of Others. The findings suggest multiple possibilities for the provision of structured support for spouses as they provide care for their recovering veteran husbands.

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