A lifetime of care and commitment
Photo: DAV Auxiliary National Jr. Vice Commander Lynn Helms Prosser attends the Auxiliary Fall Conference in Lexington, Kentucky. Lynn is standing next to a handpainted frame she was given as a prize at the conference, featuring one of her favorite quotes from the late Princess Diana that reads, "Carry out a random act of kindness, with no expectation of reward, safe in the knowledge that one day someone might do the same for you." Lynn exemplifies a life that is committed to carrying out random acts of kindness.
God blessed me with two wonderful loving men that left me a lifetime of happiness and fulfillment. Both were my lifeline for the DAV and Auxiliary.
— Lynn Helms Prosser
Back in 1969, when many 18-year-old women were heading off to college or hanging out with girlfriends on a Friday night, Lynn Helms Prosser was a young bride, mastering the task of debriding — removing dead skin from a burn patient.
In Lynn’s case, the patient was her husband Jim Helms, a door gunner and crew chief, who was shot down in Vietnam and suffered severe burns. He was medically evacuated to Japan, where he spent a little more than three months, and them was sent back to Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
“We were married a month before he left to go to Vietnam,” said Lynn. “At 18, I learned how to debride dead skin from a burn patient and change bandages. And I stayed with him at Fort Bragg for two and a half months and took care of him from sun up to sundown, every day. I grew up real fast.”
When Jim’s wounds healed, he was sent to Kansas for two years and Lynn was by herself a good deal of the time.
Not long after they returned from Kansas, when Jim was 27 years old, he became ill from his medication. He developed stomach problems and bleeding ulcers.
“We didn’t leave the hospital until we found out he was full-blown diabetic and was insulin-dependent,” said Lynn. “So, we had to learn how to start giving shots. He was only 27 and I was 25.”
Jim took shots his entire life. At 42, he had a stroke. He was diagnosed with coronary artery disease and needed a heart transplant but never received one because of his diabetes.
The two were married for 36 years before he succumbed to heart disease at the age of 56.
Photo: Vietnam veteran, Jim Helms
“He died in 2005,” saids Lynn. “He was a real active with our local veterans in South Carolina. He was chapter commander.”
Jim wouldn’t be the last veteran who depended on Lynn’s gentle care.
A caregiver and loving wife, once again
In 2008, Lynn married Carroll Prosser, a Vietnam veteran who served when he was 23 years old, with The Big Red One, 1st Infantry Division I. It was one of the first two Army combat divisions deployed to Vietnam in 1965.
“He was out in the jungles,” said Lynn. “He got a virus in his eyes — a very rare virus — that made him go blind.”
Carrol was very active in DAV, and was particularly proud to serve as the commander of the DAV National Blind Chapter for two years. He and Lynn were a strong team of veteran advocates.
“He was actually the commander of the chapter and I was commander of the DAV Auxiliary in South Carolina,” said Lynn. “We spent a lot of time advocating for the DAV. Nothing held him back. He was, what we thought was totally healthy for 71 years old.”
Photo: Vietnam veteran, Carroll Prosser
Just after Carroll returned home from the DAV 2015 department convention, fatigue set in and he just couldn’t seem to shake it.
“It was time for his physical for the year, so we went to the VA to get his blood work done so it would be in when he had his physical, and I got a call from Charleston, from the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center, and they asked me if he had been bleeding at all, and I said, 'no,'” recalled Lynn.
She was informed that Carroll, who had developed heart issues, needed to stop taking his blood thinner immediately. Her husband was “in serious condition” and they were making an appointment for him to see a hematologist.
The next day, the VA called her to say that they wanted to see him immediately. Lynn grew even more concerned when she realized the hematologist was located within a cancer center.
After a series of blood work followed by a bone marrow biopsy, they learned that Carroll had pre-leukemia and would have to undergo chemotherapy for six months.
Carroll became sicker, requiring weekly blood transfusions. By December 2015, the physician told them the treatment wasn’t working. They stopped chemotherapy and told Lynn and Carroll that one of his options was to go into hospice. Lynn was adamant that Carroll not go into hospice because he still needed blood transfusions.
“We were still praying that the Lord was going to give us a miracle,” said Lynn. “He had a lot of people praying for him. We were active in church. They stopped the chemo but we kept up with the blood transfusions."
Ever committed to DAV, Carroll told Lynn he wanted her to take him to DAV's Mid-Winter Conference in Washington, D.C., and she honored his request.
Carroll, a recipient of the Bronze Star with “V” device and Combat Infantry Badge, was a DAV member for 20 years and had served as commander of DAV Chapter 30 in Myrtle Beach for 13 years. At the state level, he served as commander and judge advocate of the Department of South Carolina.
By March of that year, Carroll began having kidney failure. Lynn put him in the hospital to see if doctors could get his kidneys to work again, but he went into multi-organ failure and died that evening.
“He was a wonderful man.”
At 66, Lynn will tell you that she is still doing what she loves — helping veterans.
“I love it, I love the people,” said Lynn.
She said she thrives on helping veterans and their families because there is so much out there that they face. Lynn knows first-hand how difficult it can be.
“When a wife — a caregiver — loses their military spouse, their veteran spouse, they don’t know what to do. They’re lost,” said Lynn. “There’s so much to do, and even our veterans are not educated about what their wives are going to have to face if something happens to them.
"They don’t know about some of the benefits that are available, and there’s just not a way to find out unless they search it out themselves," Lynn continued. "That’s why I think it’s so wonderful to belong to an organization like this because we’re always in teaching mode: always trying to help each other. It’s a great support group.”
It's because of her experiences that the Military and Veteran Caregiver Services Improvement Act of 2017 means such a great deal to Lynn. She has served as a veteran caregiver since 1969—whether it was her first husband, her father, or her second husband.
“It’s not going to help me out because my husbands have passed away, but that’s okay,” said Lynn, who is a strong advocate for so many others to get the support they deserve.
Veteran caregivers are generally family members who, like Lynn, put their lives and careers on hold and accept emotional and financial burdens to ensure their veterans are able to stay home and enjoy the highest possible quality of life. They keep veterans out of state and federal facilities, and this save taxpayers from funding the burdens of institutional care.
The family caregivers of post-9/11 veterans are eligible for comprehensive support to include training, respite care and a living stipend to offset the financial burden of being a full-time caregiver. Veterans of previous eras, such as Lynn’s husbands who both served in Vietnam, are denied eligibility based upon the era in which they served.
“I’m really glad that the pre-9/11 veterans are fighting for this because they deserved it,” said Lynn. “Their caregivers deserved the stipend because so many of them had to quit or cut back on their jobs. I had to quit my job.”
Lynn has gone to bat to help veterans and families of those earlier eras and has been fighting in Washington for seven years, seeing bill after bill shot down. She said past DAV National Commander David Riley, along with his wife Yvonne, have been strong advocates.
“He was also in that pre-9/11 era,” said Lynn. “We’ve got Korean veterans, and we still have some World War II veterans.”
In her hometown of Myrtle Beach, S.C., they recently buried two local DAV members of the Greatest Generation. Lynn noted their wives weren’t eligible for any caregiver support through VA, though both stayed home from work until their husbands passed away.
“The sad part about it is these veterans were 90-something years old and their wives are in their late-80s and taking care of these veterans and not getting anything for it,” said Lynn.
I don't begrudge anything that the post-9/11 veterans are getting—their spouses or caregivers,” Lynn continued. “But I think that all caregivers of all eras deserve the stipend and the benefits that come along with it.”