Elizabeth Dole Is on a Mission to Honor and Support Military Caregivers
Elizabeth Dole Is on a Mission to Honor and Support Military Caregivers
“Military caregivers are our nation’s hidden heroes.”Sen. Elizabeth Dole
Every week in Maria’s publication The Sunday Paper, we honor individuals who are using their voices, their hearts and their minds to Move Humanity Forward.
This week, we honor Sen. Elizabeth Dole as our Architect of Change of the Week.
Sen. Dole is a remarkable woman who has worn many hats over her lifetime and has worked tirelessly on behalf of the public good. She has been a senator, the Secretary of Transportation under Ronald Reagan and the Secretary of Labor under George H.W. Bush, the president of the Red Cross, and, of course, a loving wife. These days at the age of 80, she is devoted to supporting military caregivers via her Elizabeth Dole Foundation.
She recently took the time to answer a few questions and share further insights into how she is caring for this important part of our population, and how she is continuing to work to Move Humanity Forward.
1.) You’ve held many important roles over the course of your life – from your political posts to your leadership in philanthropy. Why have you now decided to focus on the military and veterans, specifically their caregivers?
About six years ago, my husband Bob was hospitalized at Walter Reed Army Medical Center for almost 11 months. I was there with him every day and became friends with young spouses, mothers, dads who had dropped everything to be there beside their wounded, ill or injured veteran.
I remember the room next to Bob’s, there was a young wife sleeping on a pallet next to her husband. He had lost both legs above the knee. She never left his side, caring for him for months. I quickly realized that this is not uncommon. There are millions of loved ones selflessly serving our nation’s wounded warriors.
My eyes were opened to the critical role these caregivers play in helping our wounded warriors improve or recover. And sadly, how much stress is placed on them by the tremendous responsibilities they take on, without any real preparation, or with very little support, and often spanning years and years, a lifetime of care.
These military caregivers are our nation’s hidden heroes. And they inspired me to establish the Elizabeth Dole Foundation and take a comprehensive approach to support them. We are the first organization whose sole purpose is to empower, support, and honor our nation’s 5.5 million military caregivers.
We’re working with leaders in the public, private, nonprofit, and faith communities to advocate for and recognize military caregivers’ service, and promote their overall well-being. Our goal is to strengthen America’s military caregivers and their families by raising public awareness, driving research, championing policy, and leading collaborations that make a significant impact on their lives.
2.) How do you define caregiving? What can we do to take better care of our nation’s military caregivers?
That’s a good question. One of the first things we did when launching the Foundation was to commission the RAND Corporation to undertake the first comprehensive, nationwide study of this population to ask that very question. Who are these military caregivers? How many are there in America today? What roles do they play? What support do they need?
What we learned is that a military caregiver is anyone – a spouse, parent, sibling, family member, or friend – who provides daily care for a wounded, ill or injured veteran or military service member at home.
There are 5.5 million military and veteran caregivers in our nation, representing every generation, from World War II veterans, like my husband Bob, to injured service members of our current operations. In fact, there are 1.1 million military caregivers, most under the age of 30 with children in the home, who care for post-9/11 era veterans and service members.
These spouses, parents and other loved ones transform their lives and set aside their own careers to care for those who defended our freedom. Most caregivers begin this journey in total isolation, without any support. Our Foundation is working to change that.
These women and men, manage medications, schedule and coordinate medical appointments, provide emotional and physical support, arrange for rehabilitation, handle legal and financial challenges, and manage the household. Many are bathing, feeding, and dressing their wounded veteran while raising children.
Military and veteran caregiving is very different, and in many ways much harder, than the family caregiving most of us will take on at some point in our lives. The visible and invisible wounds and of men and women coming home from war are becoming more and more complex and now, these illnesses are being compounded by the effects of aging.
We have discovered that the consequences of military and veteran caregiving are likely to grow and become more complex in the coming years and decades. We have to ready our hidden heroes for what lies ahead. Unfortunately, at this time, we as a nation are unprepared to address the long-term needs of our caregivers.
As I see it, the best way to help our wounded veterans, is to help our caregivers – as they are essential to the recovery, care and quality of life of our wounded, ill and injured veterans. Simply put, military caregivers deserve our support.
America cannot fulfill its sacred vow to serve those who have borne the battle, without giving equal steadfast support to their hidden heroes. We need to make sure our military and veteran caregivers do not carry this tremendous responsibility alone.
3.) What’s one thing you would recommend people do today to help make a difference and move humanity forward?
I believe in the innate goodness of the American people. I believe in the values that made this country what it is; courage, perseverance, generosity, faith, and a commitment to service.
Our nation has long admired and respected our military men and women who have served our country so valiantly. And we have always reserved a special honor for those who returned from service with physical and emotional scars.
Our goal now is an America where military caregivers are empowered, appreciated and recognized for their service, an America where military caregivers are woven into the very fabric of the nation’s appreciation of our military.
Whether you are a military caregiver yourself, or are just interested in learning how you can support your local hidden heroes, I’d like to invite you to visit www.HiddenHeroes.org, the first-of-its kind online destination for military caregivers and supporters. If you are a military caregiver, you can register online and find a network of your peers and the support services you deserve.
Take action. Lend your voice to this cause as there are several active pieces of legislation in front of Congress, including the Military Veteran Caregiver Services Improvement Act–speak up and tell your representatives to vote this bill into law.
Our Foundation is working hard to honor and support our military caregivers but we cannot do it alone. We need your help. Please take action for our military
For more information on the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, go here.