By Senator Elizabeth Dole, President and CEO, Caring for Military Families: The Elizabeth Dole Foundation
Over the last month America has taken a hard look at how we care for our veterans, and the discoveries have been painful. We have long known that our nation has struggled to keep pace with the injuries and challenges facing our veterans. The recent revelations, however, suggest that we are far from keeping our nation’s sacred promise to properly care for every man and every woman who has selflessly served to defend our freedom and security around the world.
I do have some hope amidst the recent disturbing developments, however. I believe the headlines, government inquiries, and awareness that have resulted present an opportunity for real and meaningful change. For instance, Democrats and Republicans have recently come together around bipartisan legislation aimed at making improvements at the VA. We should celebrate such efforts, while demanding even more. Any solutions in service of our veterans and their families must be systemic and holistic. And as our nation moves forward with such reforms, we must consider and integrate the nation’s 5.5 million military and veteran caregivers.
Caregivers serve a critical role at the heart of the nation’s military families. According to RAND Corporation, a strong, well-supported caregiver provides the best hope in the recovery of a wounded warrior. Military caregivers demonstrate the same honor and duty to their nation as their loved ones, but they too are suffering. The stress and demands of caring for a wounded warrior are resulting in physical and emotional illnesses at an alarming rate—especially amongst post 9/11 caregivers. I hear countless stories about their struggles, and it breaks my heart.
Caregivers save our nation approximately $15 billion annually. In many cases, they are their loved ones’ only trusted and available caretakers. My Foundation’s Caregiver Fellows, representing the 50-states, have demonstrated that nobody understands the challenges and opportunities for improving the health and well being of military families like the caregivers themselves. They need to be part of a permanent, holistic, and sustainable national solution. I call on the nation’s leaders to enact change for the whole military family. Such change must include our nation’s hidden heroes.