Senator Elizabeth Dole
“A National Call to Action”
White House Remarks
April 11, 2014
Remarks : As Delivered
Thank you, Rosalynn, for your very kind words of introduction and for the tremendous work you’ve done over the years on mental health and caregiving issues. It is an honor, indeed, to join you, First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden today, united in our support of America’s military caregivers. Three years ago, almost to the day, I was in this room with the First Lady and Dr. Biden for the launch of Joining Forces, an initiative that has done a great deal to raise awareness and resources for our veterans and military families. Thank you both for your leadership and commitment to our men and women in uniform and their families. As we gather today, I know we all hold a special place in our hearts for the Fort Hood military families. Our thoughts and prayers are surely with them.
As many of you know, several years ago my beloved husband, Bob, was hospitalized for almost 11 months at Walter Reed. I became a caregiver myself, and my eyes were opened to the incredible challenges facing the caregivers of our wounded warriors. Across this country a quiet, untold story of profound need is emerging…it’s the story of America’s hidden heroes…women and men caring for those who cared for us. Uncertain about their future, often alone, they soldier on with incredible strength and resilience. Today we say, you are not alone.
Those 11-months at Walter Reed inspired me to establish a foundation for military caregivers. What we discovered, almost immediately, was the need for comprehensive, evidence-based research. That led to my commissioning the RAND Corporation to undertake the country’s largest national study on military caregivers and their needs. Last week we unveiled the findings – providing us the evidence, showing us why support for America’s hidden heroes is so important. RAND said the health, well-being, and recovery of our wounded warriors is significantly enhanced by a strong, well supported caregiver. They also said that there is no silver bullet. Our response has to be holistic…collaborative…and most definitely bipartisan.
The RAND report is a clarion call. It is up to us, those of us in this room, and to people of good will across this great country, to answer the call…and here is my answer. I am proud to announce the launch of Hidden Heroes: The National Coalition for Military Caregivers…an effort meant to inspire individuals and organizations to work together to raise awareness and support for America’s military caregivers. I’ve been humbled…blown away really…by the initial responses we’ve been getting from leaders willing to join the coalition. Countless nonprofits are leading the way…Democrats and Republicans on the Hill have stepped up like Nancy Pelosi, Mitch McConnell, Patty Murray, and Richard Burr, labor and the private sector is asking: “What can we do to help?”Rich Trumka, of the AFL-CIO…faith communities are reaching out to their worshippers, like Pastor Joel Osteen who will host a national service dedicated to military caregivers on Sunday, April 27th. Many committed leaders and friends, are here with us…we thank you all…and we look forward to working closely with you in the weeks and months ahead.
I also must single out several significant sources of support. First, heartfelt thanks to Hank Greenberg’s Starr Foundation. A veteran of two wars himself, Hank knows the concerns and has enabled our mission to raise awareness and support for military caregivers since day one. Second, warm thanks to Wounded Warrior Project, led by Steve Nardizzi, for serving as lead funder and partner on the RAND Study. Thank you, Steve! And a big thank you to Jacqueline Mars for her incredible support.
Over the course of my life I’ve witnessed the extraordinary generosity of the American people, and the fact that we are a nation of problem solvers. The circumstances of our military caregivers is a huge problem, and, in predictably heartwarming fashion, the problem solving has begun. It is a privilege to announce some early commitments from our coalition that I believe will inspire others.
We know from our study that military caregivers are experiencing serious legal and financial issues. Today we address those needs on two fronts. First, the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA), with assistance from USAA and the American Bar Association, is launching a new website, supported by one of my Foundation’s Innovation Grants. It will serve as a public portal for thousands of caregivers across the country to access financial, legal and social resources. This initiative will be further enhanced through a major national collaborative effort facilitated by the Foundation – it’s called Lawyers for Heroes – a partnership between Public Counsel, the nation’s largest pro bono law firm, the ABA, and MOAA to offer free legal services to military families who are struggling the most financially. My heartfelt thanks to Admiral Norb Ryan and the leaders of each of the organizations involved, for their incredible commitments.
Next, we turn to another major finding in our RAND study – the critical need for increased caregiver education and training. I’m excited to announce that Easter Seals has stepped forward to lead a national effort in partnership with the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving, the Dixon Center, the National Alliance for Caregiving, USO, Atlas Research, the Family Caregiver Alliance, and Caregiver Action Network. This innovative collaboration will provide thousands of caregivers with valuable training across the country, importantly targeting those who are not currently eligible for the Veterans Administration program, which Easter Seals administers. Online sessions will be available 24/7 for those who are unable to make the live sessions due to their caregiving responsibilities at home. We truly have an organizational A-team involved in this initiative.
Addressing yet another finding, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and its Foundation have made a significant commitment to military caregiver employment and workplace needs. The organization’s very successful Hiring Our Heroes program will leverage its experience to assist caregivers who need to find employment in order to support their family and to offset additional caregiving expenses. Hiring Our Heroes will introduce caregivers to a myriad of virtual tools and incorporate them into an innovative virtual job fair program that will soon be unveiled. Its current job fair initiative will be expanded to focus on caregivers in areas near military treatment facilities. Additionally, the Chamber will host a major summit for the business community in partnership with my Foundation this September to promote employment and workforce friendly environments for military caregivers. Tom Donohue and his team were one of the first organizations to enthusiastically sign on to the coalition – and as you can see they’re already committed to making a huge difference in the lives of caregivers. These early and impactful major commitments demonstrate the kinds of measurable solutions the coalition will focus on moving forward.
I am truly touched that we’re joined today by caregivers from across America, including those who are part of our 50-state Caregiver Fellows Program, advising the Foundation and raising awareness by sharing their stories. They are the heart and soul of everything we do, and they inspire us with their true acts of heroism. They also remind us why the work ahead is so important, so important that I’m committing today to convene us a year from now to report on our collective progress. We owe that accountability to the caregivers in this room and across the country. And I know my partners feel the same.
“United we stand, divided we fall,” has always been a transcendent American motto, and it reminds me of one of my favorite historical anecdotes. It’s the story of a night in 1945 when General Dwight Eisenhower was walking along the banks of the Rhine River, thinking of the crossing in which he would lead the allied armies. He met a soldier, and asked him why he wasn’t sleeping. The young GI, who did not recognize Ike, said, “I guess I’m just a little nervous.”
“So am I,” said Eisenhower. “Let’s walk together, and perhaps we’ll draw strength from one another.” Ladies and Gentlemen, I draw strength every single day from the stories of love and devotion demonstrated by our nation’s military and veteran caregivers. May their commitments to their loved ones and to our nation inspire us to walk with them, and together we will draw the strength and support of Americans in every corner of the country. Thank you very much, God bless you all, and God bless this great land of the free – America.