Last month, I was granted a wonderful opportunity to meet with the Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald. A few weeks prior, my caregiver coordinator called me to ask if I would want to meet with him when he visited Edith Nourse Rogers Memorial Veterans Hospital (aka Bedford VA Hospital). I, along with another military caregiver, was able to speak directly with the Secretary about issues facing military caregivers, as well as present a few possible solutions.
Secretary McDonald surprised me by bringing up the Elizabeth Dole Foundation (I had not stated that I was a Fellow/HHCC Program Coordinator at this point) and his commitment to attend our Military Caregiver Summit on May 20. As a military caregiver who has sometimes struggled in dealing with the VA, it was refreshing to hear the Secretary be genuinely committed to helping military caregivers.
The Secretary went on to speak about his goal of ending veteran homelessness. The RAND Hidden Heroes study commissioned by the Foundation touched upon the fact that veterans have a greater chance for recovery and improvement when receiving care at home. Supporting military caregivers is one of the more effective solutions to ending and reducing veteran homelessness as caregivers play such a critical role in assisting veterans with finances, paperwork and long-term planning. By continuing and expanding programs such as the VA’s post-9/11 Caregiver Program, which provides military caregivers medical training along with financial and medical support, the VA can make an impact on this issue.
I was very thankful for being offered the opportunity to meet with Secretary McDonald, not only to talk about personal challenges I have faced as a caregiver, but to also help advocate for all 5.5 million military and veteran caregivers. Also, I am grateful for the hard work of everyone involved with the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, as well as other advocates such as the Caregiver Coordinators at the Bedford VA and Secretary McDonald, who have taken the extra step of further committing themselves to help ensure that our nation’s Hidden Heroes have the support they so desperately need.
HHCC Program Coordinator