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Navy military caregiver pays it forward

Group of men and women on a stage, some standing, some sitting Amy Cozad (center), Rear Adm. Kyle Cozad (far right) and the Navy team enter the Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida to participate in the Department of Defense Warrior Games this past June. More than 300 athletes from the U.S. and six partner nations competed in the 2019 DoD Warrior Games. (Photo by Roger Wollenberg.)

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Amy Cozad has been married to Kyle Cozad for over 35 years, and has been his caregiver for nearly three.

In 2018, Navy Rear Admiral Kyle Cozad accidentally slipped, landed on his back and broke two broken vertebrae. At the time, he was serving at the Commander of the Naval Education and Training Command (NETC).

The Cozad family went through a sudden life change when they received news that Kyle Cozad could be a paraplegic for the rest of his life. Amy knew that this will change a lot of their normal routine, including new obstacles that they will have to face head on. Amy also knew that she had to find a way for her family to be as involved and informed throughout Kyle’s recovery.

The Warrior Games and Warrior Care Recovery Coordination Program helped the Cozad family understand their new reality and provided them with an “overwhelming” amount of support and resources that they never knew were available.

For the first few months of Kyle’s rehabilitation and recovery, the Cozad’s were scrambling to deal with the “shocking” news. Being a new Military Caregiver, Amy was diving into a new world of responsibilities, medicine, and regulations for the Medical Evaluation Board (MEB). Amy shared many of the new challenges that they faced, such as, “learning the difference between selecting VA Care and civilian care or both. We couldn’t get certain appointments because he’s only temporary, well what does that mean? Every state has different levels of handicap we learned about it through experience. We were just learning as we went.”

The annual Warrior Games brings recovering service members, military caregivers, and their families together to participate in fun competition and adaptive sports. For Kyle and Amy, within the five months of trials, training, and being a part of the games, it was a whole new learning experience. “I must’ve filled out five notebooks worth of information. I found out there were resources specifically for paraplegics, adaptive sport equipment that we could get for free, family therapy and activities, and more, it was all the information we needed” Amy laughs.

During the Warrior Games, they got to connect with families of recovering service members who were paraplegics, and they all shared. Amy elaborated, “The first 3 years your new normal change every month, after the three year mark. It could make the process slower, or it may not depending on a variety of reasons”. One of the Cozad’s favorite thing about the Warrior Games was that rank was not a major factor, just working together as a team to win. Amy stated, “There was a rumor going around that there was an admiral participating and no one knew who. And we kind of stayed quiet, until we were recognized by a Navy service member who was previously under Kyle at NETC. We were here just like everyone else, and focused on our goal of training to win, gathering information, and our recovery process.”

During the practices and trials, Amy and Kyle had the opportunity to be adventurous and try different adaptive sports, speak with coaches who have either been to the Olympics or have years of dedicated experience, and speak with other military families happy to share their experiences and tips. The practices also allowed Amy and Kyle to break away from each other and focus on themselves. At first while Kyle was on the field, Amy was in the stands and felt hesitant to leave. Eagerly watching to see if she could help in anyway, but eventually they both realized that they were in good hands. Amy was free to grab a cup of coffee and tour the training center with other caregivers. During this time, Amy learned how valuable the first year of recovery is for not just her husband, but also her family.

As an admiral and leader in the Naval community, Kyle and Amy were surprised at the low number of Navy recovering service members participating and Naval military families. This has inspired the Cozads’ to provide free mentorship advice to the Naval recovering service community.

“We are mentoring around 24 young Navy service members who have had bad accidents,” explained Amy. “We help in different ways, by sharing with families our experiences and how we were able to deal with the shock of a sudden new lifestyle. Kyle, as a leader in the community, assists Navy RSMs with writing letters of recommendation and sharing how the program has helped him personally with his recovery.”

In August 2020, Kyle Cozad retired from the Navy, and is now the President/CEO at the Naval Aviation Museum Foundation. Although he has made progress with his recovery, and can even walk for a short amount of time, there are still hurdles that his family needs to overcome for his recovery.

“As a Military Spouse, we learn to be independent and the problem solvers,” Amy shared. “The fix it person! But now you need to reach out and ask for help, realize that you can’t fix everything.”

The Warrior Care Recovery Coordination Program has helped the Cozad family by opening their eyes to a new normal and coping skills. “We realize how truly blessed we are and enjoy each and every day!”

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