Senator Elizabeth Dole called national organizations and renowned experts together at the Hidden Heroes Impact Forum to pursue a bold agenda for addressing the most urgent concerns of those caring for America’s wounded, ill and injured service members and veterans. The Forum, held February 11-12, was designed to focus the nation’s response to the 2014 RAND study commissioned by the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, which uncovered the alarming gaps in support facing America’s 5.5 million military and veteran caregivers.
Key leaders from the public, private, nonprofit, labor and faith communities who are well positioned to make an immediate and long lasting impact for military and veteran caregivers took part in the event. They were organized into seven councils, each focused on one of the following critical areas identified by the RAND study:
- Interfaith Action and Ministry
- Mental and Physical Health
- Respite Care
- Community Support at Home
- Education and Training
- Employment and Workplace Support
- Financial and Legal Issues
“I was heartened to spend two days with such a broad collection of recognized leaders working alongside active military and veteran caregivers to collaborate on how we can better care for America’s hidden heroes,” said Senator Elizabeth Dole. “My career in public service has shown me that our nation can only respond to a societal crisis of this significance if sectors of our society work together to achieve holistic results. This event marked an important milestone in our nation’s journey toward filling the gaps in policies, programs, and services for those caring for our wounded, ill and injured warriors.”
At the outset, Forum participants were challenged to develop achievable solutions to caregivers’ most formidable obstacles, pledging their organization’s support to make these solutions a reality. Host and chief facilitator Booz Allen Hamilton guided the Council discussions through the process of investigating root causes of the issues facing military caregivers and charting the way ahead for solving these core problems. At the end of each day, councils reported a significant list of proposed actions in support of caregivers and the initial organizations volunteering to carry them out.
“Booz Allen was so proud to host and facilitate the Elizabeth Dole Foundation’s Hidden Heroes Impact Forum,” said Executive Vice President Robin Portman. “It was an honor to participate in focused conversations about our military caregivers’ needs – and then to address how government, community and faith-based organizations can help. The positive energy at the Council meetings was palpable. But beyond that, we were able to develop actionable, sustainable solutions to the most pressing problems faced by spouses, siblings, parents and friends of wounded warriors who are responsible for their care. I look forward to our continued work with the Elizabeth Dole Foundation in support of military caregivers.”
Active military and veteran caregivers participated in the event as advisors and contributors. They ensured that proposed ideas addressed the everyday experience of those caring for wounded warriors. During the Council sessions, they provided insight into the maze of policies and programs that are both overwhelming and, in many cases, ineffective. When necessary, the caregivers injected a sobering reality into the discussion, with personal anecdotes of near homelessness, isolation, and confronting severe depression.
“The most effective strategies for strengthening our nation’s support for military caregivers are made with input and feedback from those who live this reality every day – the Impact Forum provided us that critical seat at the table,” commented Melissa Comeau, an Elizabeth Dole Fellow from Arizona who cares for her veteran husband. “I was personally inspired by the selfless collaboration among the Council members. There was no pride of ownership over ideas or programs. The participants were solely focused on what was best for our nation’s hidden heroes.”
The Impact Forum will serve as a launch pad for the purposeful, organized, evidence-based, and forward-thinking strategies that will be carried out by the members of the Foundation’s National Coalition, launched last year during a special event at the White House. The first report of the Coalition’s progress will come later this spring, as part of the Hidden Heroes Coalition Summit 2015: Progress and Promise to take place in Washington, D.C.