For too long, America has overlooked the services and sacrifices of those caring for wounded, ill or injured veterans at home. These 5.5 million military and veteran caregivers--spouses, parents and other loved ones--are in almost every community in America. They probably live in your neighborhood, and they are hardworking professionals (nurses, lawyers, college professors and franchisees) contributing to America's diverse economy. But too often, military caregivers find themselves in a new and unexpected profession as a caregiver without any formal training or preparation for the challenges that lie ahead. In fact, in their roles as caregivers, these hidden heroes provide an estimated $14 billion in uncompensated care annually.
When my husband, Bob, was hospitalized at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for an extended period of time about seven years ago, I came to know many young families who had overturned their lives to care for wounded, ill and injured loved ones returning from war. Among them, I met Jessica Allen, a young mother and financial counselor from McMinnville, TN. Jessica traveled for months between Tennessee and Maryland to support her two young daughters and her small business while caring for her husband, Chaz, an Army veteran who suffered a double leg amputation. Although my own caregiving journey was markedly different, I identified with the challenges faced by Jessica and dozens of other spouses, mothers, dads, siblings and friends like her who each had devoted their lives to caring for an injured veteran.
Following Bob's hospitalization, I established the Elizabeth Dole Foundation to raise awareness for military and veteran caregivers, and to find solutions for their unique needs. Working with the RAND Corporation, we confirmed a theory I developed while walking the halls of Walter Reed with Jessica and her peers: a well-supported caregiver is the single most important factor in a wounded warrior's recovery. Furthermore, the 5.5 million military caregivers across the nation are at greater risk for depression and heart disease due to their caregiving role and social isolation, often struggle to balance family responsibilities and caregiving duties, and have unique needs when it comes to financial and legal planning, respite and employment.
In 2016, the Foundation launched Hidden Heroes, a multi-channel awareness and support campaign by caregivers for caregivers with the help of my friend...