MVCN Receives 2016 Rosalynn Carter Caregiver Champion Award


MVCN Recognized by Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving

Atlanta, Ga. – Today, the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving presented the Military and Veteran Caregiver Network (MVCN) with the 2016 Rosalynn Carter Caregiver Champion Award at the first Operation Family Caregiver Summit. MVCN is being recognized for reducing the physical and emotional challenges of caregiver isolation by making peer support available in the homes and communities of the nation’s 5.5 million military and veteran caregivers. The MVCN is modeled after the success of the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), which has brought the healing and caring of peer support to over 60,000 loved ones of those grieving the loss of a military loved for over 20 years. 

“We know the personal impact that the caregiver role can sometimes have on the personal health and wellness of devoted family and friends – our Hidden Heroes – and ultimately on their warriors and veterans as well.  We also know that receiving support from others with similar ‘lived experience.’ can help increase caregivers hopefulness, knowledge and skills and their access to resources.” said Dr. Lynda Davis, Executive Vice President of TAPS and the Executive Director of the MVCN. “TAPS has allowed us to bring their evidence-based, best practices in peer support to the aid of our nation’s caregivers and to provide training to, and share technology with, organizations with similar missions like the exceptional programs Mrs. Carter the Operation Family Caregiver team have created.” 

The MVCN helps connect caregivers in a safe and secure Online Peer Support Community where they can share confidentially in chats, discussion groups and through webinars and in Community-based Peer Support Groups.  It also gives caregivers and providers access to more than 3,000 local, state and national resources and a calendar of events across the country for caregivers.  

“There are many who provide support and services for the families of military service members and veterans. But the MVCN stands out tall above others and we are proud to recognize their efforts of excellence with this award,” stated Dr. Leisa Easom, Executive Director of the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving.

Dr. Lynda Davis will accept the 2016 Rosalynn Carter Caregiver Champion Award on behalf of the MVCN and TAPS which is honored to share its peer support practices in support of our nation’s caregivers with the assistance of partner organizations and the sponsorship of the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation, the Bob Woodruff Foundation and the Wounded Warrior Project. 


FOR INTERVIEW:     Dr. Lynda Davis, Executive Director for the Military and Veteran Caregiver

The Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) is the national organization providing compassionate care for the families of America’s fallen military heroes and has offered support to more than 60,000 surviving family members of our fallen military and their caregivers since 1994. TAPS provides peer-based emotional support, grief and trauma resources, healing seminars and retreats for adults, camps for children, casework assistance, connections to community-based care, online and in-person support groups and the 24/7 National Military Survivor Helpline at 800.959.TAPS (8277) available for all who have been affected by a death in the Armed Forces. Services are provided free of charge. For more information go to or call TAPS at 202.588.TAPS (8277).


TAPS Peer-based Support Model Used to Reduce Caregiver Isolation


WASHINGTON – The Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) successful best practice, peer-based support model has been the example for a new community of practice to help military and veteran caregivers. The Military and Veteran Caregiver Network (MVCN) will officially launch its programs, website, and online tools May 20 at the Caregiver Summit in Washington, D.C. with First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama, VA Secretary Robert McDonald, and Sen. Elizabeth Dole.

The Network will provide caregivers of pre- and post-9/11 wounded, ill, and injured military and veterans with peer support to address their RAND report finding of isolation and its associated challenges. These opportunities for caregiver support will be provided through peer mentors, an online peer support community, and community-based peer support groups.

“With more than five and a half million caregivers assisting veterans of all eras, it is an honor to share the TAPS model of peer-based support to help caregivers better connect, share, and support one another and access needed resources,” said Bonnie Carroll, TAPS President and Founder.

Through the MVCN, TAPS, donor partners like the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, the Bob Woodruff Foundation, the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation and the Wounded Warrior Project and hundreds of organizations nationwide will support 50,000 caregiver connections during the first year of operation. This collaboration will also increase caregiver knowledge and use of information and services through the MVCN Resource Library, its Master Calendar and Magazine, “We Care”.

“Engaging with peer caregivers to share experiences, empathy, and education in a secure and confidential environment offers needed encouragement that reduces isolation and increases wellness and hope,” said Lynda Davis, TAPS EVP and the Executive Director of the MVCN.

TAPS remains committed to its core mission of providing comfort and care to anyone grieving the death of a loved one in military service to America, even as it facilitates this new caregiver peer support network with partners nationwide.

Media Requests

To request an interview with Bonnie Carroll or Lynda Davis, please call TAPS at 202.588.8277 or email

About TAPS

The Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) is the national organization providing compassionate care for the families of America’s fallen military heroes and has offered support to more than 50,000 surviving family members of our fallen military and their caregivers since 1994. TAPS provides peer-based emotional support, grief and trauma resources, grief seminars and retreats for adults, Good Grief Camps for children, case work assistance, connections to community-based care, online and in-person support groups and a 24/7 resource and information helpline for all who have been affected by a death in the Armed Forces. Services are provided free of charge. For more information go to or call the toll-free TAPS resource and information helpline at 1.800.959.TAPS (8277).

Taps Peer Mentorship Program Becomes Valuable Model for Caregiver Peer Support Network


WASHINGTON – The peer mentoring model used by the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) will be utilized to create a new network to help military and veteran caregivers, according to an op-ed written by First Lady Michelle Obama and Second Lady Jill Biden, published on April 11, 2014 by Military Spouse Magazine.

In their op-ed, Obama and Biden announced that the Department of Defense is creating in-person caregiver peer forums at every military installation that serves wounded warriors and their caregivers around the world. They will also be creating online tools, so that caregivers who are not able to attend an in-person forum can connect to their peers as well.

The Elizabeth Dole Foundation, TAPS, and many other organizations are committing to train 10,000 caregiving peer mentors — a commitment that will reach 50,000 caregivers nationwide. This commitment will also serve to increase caregiver knowledge and use of information and services through the VA Caregiver Helpline and the National Resource Directory.

“It is gratifying to see our model for assisting families of fallen troops, now being replicated to help military and veteran families who are coping with illness or injury in service to our country,” said Bonnie Carroll, TAPS founder and military widow.

As part of the Joining Forces initiative and its ongoing efforts to engage all sectors of society to give our service members and their families opportunities and support, Obama and Biden hosted former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, former Senator Elizabeth Dole, caregivers of veterans and active duty service members and TAPS representatives at the White House to discuss ways to improve support and resources available for caregivers.

“Connecting people who have suffered and now live daily with trauma with others who share a common experience provides healing and support,” said Carroll.

“Just as the TAPS peer-based support model has assisted families of fallen troops for two decades, that model will now be used to train peer mentors and master trainers that assist caregivers for veterans and active duty service members.”

TAPS remains committed to providing comfort and care to anyone grieving the death of a loved one in military service to America.

About TAPS

The Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) is the national organization providing compassionate care for the families of America’s fallen military heroes and has offered support to more than 50,000 surviving family members of our fallen military and their caregivers since 1994. TAPS provides peer-based emotional support, grief and trauma resources, grief seminars and retreats for adults, Good Grief Camps for children, case work assistance, connections to community-based care, online and in-person support groups and a 24/7 resource and information helpline for all who have been affected by a death in the Armed Forces. Services are provided free of charge. For more information go to or call the toll-free TAPS resource and information helpline at 1.800.959.TAPS (8277).

Media Contact for TAPS: Ami Neiberger-Miller or James Hutton, 202.588.8277,,

The Military Caregiver Peer Support Network: Helping Our Nation's Hidden Heroes

Bonnie Carroll, TAPS

In each generation, our nation has witnessed the selfless few who step forward to answer the call to duty and defend freedom both at home and abroad. Every day while serving they can be subjected to risks and toils that result in lifelong impacts upon their health. Wounds, illnesses and injuries stemming from service require ongoing care for many military service members and veterans. More often than not, this type of care is given not only by professionals or in institutions, but right at home by millions of family members — caregivers who are our hidden heroes.

Over 5.5 million caregivers support wounded, ill or injured military or veterans; 1.1 million (19.6 percent) of whom are caring for post-9/11 veterans. This selfless help promotes better quality lives and can result in improved rehabilitation and recovery. Yet playing this role can impose a substantial physical, emotional and financial toll on caregivers themselves. Many caregivers have to set aside their own career and life goals to provide the needed care and, unlike professionals, they usually provide this care without compensation and often without sufficient knowledge of, or access to, available resources or a support network.

A recent RAND Corporation report “Hidden Heroes, America’s Military Caregivers” commissioned by the Elizabeth Dole Foundation detailed the stories of selfless duty and sacrifice performed by family members who are serving as the caregiver for those who served our country. The report revealed that while all caregivers experience decline in personal health outcomes, greater strains in family relationships and more workplace problems than non-caregivers, these statistics were even higher for post-9/11 caregivers. A high percentage of which (53 percent) have no caregiving network despite their younger age. The report recommended that social support to these hidden heroes is urgently needed.

To address this critical need, the peer programs of the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) was applauded by the First Lady at the Joining Forces Initiative on April 11th as the model to shape the creation of a new Military and Veteran Caregiver Peer Support Network in conjunction with the Military Caregiver Coalition of the Elizabeth Dole Foundation. The Network’s core services, built on the TAPS peer mentor and peer support group model, was again reinforced last week during the First Lady’s announcement on April 30th of the new Council on Foundation’s Veteran Philanthropy Exchange and its emphasis on “sharing best practices.”

TAPS will create the Network in partnership with groups such as the Wounded Warrior Project, the Military Officers Association of America, the Association of the United States Army, the American Legion and the American Legion Auxiliary, the National Military Family Association, Blue Star Families, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Paralyzed Veterans of America, the National Guard Association of the United States and many others. The Network will also connect caregivers to public and private expertise and resources available through programs such as the Veterans Affairs Caregiver Helpline, the Warrior Care Program, Military OneSource, Vets4Warriors, the National Resource Directory, Veteran Caregivers, Easter Seals and the Caregiver Action Network.

For over 20 years, TAPS has successfully provided support to over 50,000 survivors whose loved ones have died during their military service. Using its best practices of peer mentoring, online peer communities and community-based peer support groups, TAPS brings resources, hope and healing to families of the fallen 24/7/365 worldwide. This peer connectedness works because it offers those in need the opportunity to walk with someone who has gone, and come through, a similar grief journey.

The TAPS model of peer-based support will be applied to address the challenges identified in the RAND report, especially for those post 9/11 caregivers who are too often isolated in their own form of grieving over the loss of the health of their military loved one and the life they knew before. During the next 12 months, this Network will prepare master trainers, and trainers to ready 10,000 experienced caregivers for the role of peer mentor. Through these trained peers, online peer communities and community-based peer support groups, the Network will reach 50,000 caregivers who might otherwise remain alone with their challenges, isolated with their emotions and often hopeless in their circumstances.

TAPS is proud to offer its expertise to the Network and to work closely with its sister organizations to ensure that those who care for those who serve are supported where it’s most needed — in their communities — by those who know most what is needed — their peers.

Huffington Post

05/06/2014 11:16 am EDT

Updated: 07/06/2014 5:59 am EDT

Caregivers to Warriors Are Hidden Heroes

Selfless helpers need support, too

Lynda C. Davis

“Meeting the other caregiver was like finding a twin with a secret language all our own,” said Andrea Sawyer, a fellow of the Elizabeth Dole Foundation’s Caring for Military Families project.

A mother of two, and wife and caregiver for her husband, who was medically retired from the Army in 2008, Ms. Sawyer captures the essence of connection that warrior caregivers seek. Knowing that they cannot quit, caregivers search for ways to share and “build each other up” she explains. Determined to do whatever it takes to save their loved one and their family, they are also deeply committed to ensure they never “leave another caregiver behind.”

This need for mutual support among caregivers is very practical, even lifesaving, when a wounded warrior must use extensive services of multiple agencies and providers. Beside hospital beds and waiting rooms, caregivers use trial and error to gain information about how best to navigate the maze of benefits and services.

Through sharing with others, they can come to view their warrior’s injuries and their own unexpected caregiver roles as “a detour on the journey of our lives, not as a derailment.”

The support of other caregivers “is fuel that keeps the train on the tracks” for Ms. Sawyer, it remains difficult to find for far too many. The challenges faced each day by caregivers who support those who served were highlighted in the recently released RAND Corp. report “Hidden Heroes, America’s Military Caregivers.” Commissioned by the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, the report estimates there are currently 5.5 million military caregivers in the United States, 1.1 million of whom care for a veteran who served since Sept. 11, 2001.

While all caregivers experience decline in personal health outcomes, greater strains in family relationships and more workplace problems than non-caregivers, these statistics were even higher for post-September 11 caregivers. The report concluded that these caregivers tended to be younger, caring for a younger veteran, and be less connected to a support network.

To address this need for connection, a group of military and veterans service organizations is creating a direct opportunity for caregivers to receive peer support. This effort, called the Military and Veteran Caregiver Peer Support Network, is part of the Elizabeth Dole Foundation National Coalition for Military Caregivers, highlighted by first lady Michelle Obama at a White House Joining Forces event on Friday.

This network will tap the shared experience of our nation’s hidden heroes — those who care for those who have worn the uniform — in order to rally community-based engagement. It will provide caregivers with more formal access to person-to-person, online and community-based peer-support opportunities that supplement governmental services, and it will do so for free.

The network is modeled on the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), which has successfully used peers to deliver comprehensive services and support for 20 years to more than 50,000 adults and children whose loved ones died during military service. The network is tapping into the expertise of a wide range of other nonprofit groups, such as the Wounded Warrior Project, which builds peer-to-peer support into their engagement opportunities to more than 50,000 alumni and caregivers. Initial partner organizations, including the Military Officers Association of America, the American Legion Auxiliary, the Association of the United States Army, the National Military Family Association, Blue Star Families, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, and the National Guard Association of the United States, will help structure the network to make the benefits of peer support available to caregivers of all eras.

The network will also connect caregivers to public and private expertise and resources available through programs such as the Veterans Affairs Caregiver Helpline, the Warrior Care Program, Military OneSource, Vets4Warriors, the National Resource Directory, Veteran Caregivers, Easter Seals and the Caregiver Action Network. Over the next 12 months, it will recruit, train and support a cadre of volunteer peer caregivers who can offer 50,000 contacts to help overcome any isolation, which often cripples the heart.

The not-so-secret language of peer support that breaks through isolation is useful when speaking about the day-to-day challenges faced by many. For the caregivers of those among the less than 1 percent of Americans who have served in the military, it is however, an essential common language to know to translate the sometimes fleeting signs of hopefulness needed to pass through the times of trial. Indeed, the language of military and veteran caregiver peer support is a sacred code that cannot be contracted or contrived, but must be lived to be learned.

The Military and Veteran Caregiver Peer Support Network will help ensure caregivers from all eras have access to others who share their noble love and dedication, who speak their common language of battle, of caring and of healing against all odds. Without this voice, without each other, caregivers all too often remain hidden heroes, left behind.

Lynda C. Davis is executive vice president of Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) and a former deputy undersecretary of defense for military community and family policy.

The Washington Times

Friday, April 11, 2014

National Leaders Selected to Chair Councils Dedicated To Addressing Military Caregiving Issues

The Elizabeth Dole Foundation announced key leaders, issue experts and advocates as chairs for the Foundation’s seven Impact Councils, formed to pursue solutions to the most urgent challenges facing America’s military and veteran caregivers.

The national organizations that comprise the seven Councils were first convened by the Foundation during last month’s Hidden Heroes Impact Forum. During this two-day event, public, private, nonprofit, labor and faith organizations collaborated on prioritizing the most significant barriers to caregivers finding and receiving assistance, and developing solutions that will provide them both immediate and long-term relief.

The Chairs listed below will drive their respective Councils over the coming months to take action on the strategies and solutions outlined at the Impact Forum. 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.

Community Support at Home

  • James Gilbert, Director of Union Veterans Council, AFL-CIO
  • Heather Prill Pritchard, Senior Manager of National Partnerships and Atlanta Hometown Giving, The Home Depot Foundation

Education and Training

  • Lynda Davis, Executive Vice President, TAPS
  • Marjorie Morrison, CEO and Founder, Psych Armor Institute

Employment and Workforce Support

  • Eric Eversole, President, Hiring Our Heroes, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation
  • Meg O’Grady, Vice President of Veteran Business Strategy and Engagement, First Data Corporation

Financial and Legal Planning

  • Kenneth Goldsmith, Senior Legislative Counsel and Director of State Legislation, American Bar Association
  • Justin Schmitt, Assistant Vice President for Corporate Responsibility, USAA

Interfaith Action and Ministry

  • Jack Lea, Executive Director, National Conference on Ministry to the Armed Forces
  • Dan Look, Chief Strategy Officer, National Lutheran Communities & Services

Mental and Physical Health

  • Catharine Grimes, Director, Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation
  • Michelle Kees, Assistant Professor and Faculty Member of Military Support Programs and Networks (M-SPAN), University of Michigan

Respite Care

  • Jed Johnson, Vice President of Strategic Initiatives, Easter Seals
  • Jill Kagan, Program Director, ARCH National Respite Network and Resource Center

See more at:

Elizabeth Dole Convenes Leading Experts and Advocates Around Critical Caregiving Issues

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.

See more at:

Leading Experts and Advocates to Collaborate on Critical Caregiving Issues Through Elizabeth Dole Foundation Impact Councils

The Elizabeth Dole Foundation is moving into the next phase of its mission: creating sustainable impact in the lives of the nation’s 5.5 million military and veteran caregivers. Armed with a two-year comprehensive, evidence-based national study commissioned by the Foundation and produced by the RAND Corporation, we have a clarion call for action.

In April 2014, the study was unveiled and disseminated nationwide. Later in the month, Senator Dole was hosted by First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden at the White House to announce the Foundation’s national response: Hidden Heroes: The National Coalition for Military Caregivers. The coalition is comprised of leaders from the public, private, labor, nonprofit, and faith communities. Organizations have already stepped up to provide solutions and address gaps identified in the study. The Foundation also announced a new major bipartisan Congressional Caucus co-chaired by Leader Nancy Pelosi, Chairman Jeff Miller, and Senators John McCain and Jack Reed. The caucus will be an invaluable resource for pursuing our policy recommendations. Several bills are already pending in Congress as a result of our efforts.

To date, the Foundation has engaged nearly 100 organizations across the coalition sectors. Many new programs and activities have already been announced within the coalition and are already underway. At the same time, we are pursuing purposeful, organized, evidence-based, and forward thinking strategies to expand impact in key areas identified by the RAND study as needs and gaps in support. To accomplish that, we’re launching focused Impact Councils to support our goal of creating direct impact on the lives of military and veteran families in the most critical areas.

These councils will engage key leaders across our coalition in accounting for progress to date and development of action plans for the future. The councils will be rich in organizational and individual diversity and heavy on experience in key areas RAND highlighted in the study.

Councils will be convened in the following areas and chaired by leaders in the fields represented:

– Interfaith Action and Ministry           – Employment and Workplace Support

– Mental and Physical Health             – Financial and Legal Issues

– Education and Training                   – Community Support at Home

– Respite Care

A uniform process and methodology will be utilized to guide the councils, providing each with objectives and a model for organizing its work and recommendations into an actionable final report. Senator Dole announced from the White House that she would reconvene the coalition in one year. In April 2015 the Foundation will bring together the Impact Councils at a Summit to ensure accountability and measure our collective progress.

See more at:

Personal and patriotic mission

Elizabeth Dole — former U.S. senator and presidential cabinet member twice over — and her husband, Robert Dole — longtime veteran of both houses of Congress and two presidential tickets — could be called a Republican power couple.

However, their latest efforts bridge the gap between red and blue politics with a red, white and blue cause. The National Coalition for Military Caregivers was launched this year by Caring for Military Families: Elizabeth Dole Foundation.

“Everyone is so willing to help,” said Elizabeth Dole. “We are very much a bipartisan organization, and it’s a joy to work with people who are friends on both sides of the aisle, and the White House.”

Working alongside first lady Michelle Obama’s Joining Forces initiative, Dole’s coalition has enlisted labor and business leaders, nonprofits and faith groups to engineer a nationwide network of support for caregivers of wounded warriors.

Dole’s inspiration for what she calls her “mission” is as personal as it is patriotic. Her husband was severely wounded in WWII, suffering injuries that have affected him throughout his life. A long stay in 2010 at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., introduced the Doles to many post-9/11 veterans.

“Bob was hospitalized for almost 11 months at Walter Reed, so I spent a great deal of time there,” Elizabeth Dole said. “I got to know the wounded warriors and some of their caregivers, who often were young spouses, or sometimes mothers and fathers.”

She said getting to know other patients and their families opened her eyes to the obstacles facing those caregivers, and the Elizabeth Dole foundation arose from a desire to help them overcome.

“I learned so much about what was going on in their lives,” she said. “They had no idea that they were going to become caregivers — not just for a short period of time but for decades.

“I wanted to raise awareness and also to look for ways to support these wonderful people that I got to know very well.”

Through her foundation, Dole commissioned a Rand Corporation study of the caregiver population in the U.S. Among other findings, the two-year study discovered that of 5.5 million caregivers in the U.S., 1.1 million are caring for veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. This group is younger than the rest of the caregiver population and less likely to have a support network, according to the study.

“Isolation was certainly one strong part of the Rand findings,” Dole said. “Also the legal and financial challenges … Many (military caregivers) have no health care, so their own health often has been impacted.”

Dole said she was surprised the research showed a majority of these caregivers were also in the workforce.

“They have to be because of the expenses of caregiving, and some are now their family’s breadwinners,” she said. “And they’re raising children, many of them. How do they do it? It’s just incredible.”

At Walter Reed she saw first-hand the challenges caregivers faced while their service members were inpatients.

“Obviously, once they’re home the challenges become tremendous. My heart was just being pulled on this. More and more I had a sense of mission … to raise awareness about these hidden heroes.”

After the study, the launch of the National Coalition of Military Caregivers was the next logical step. Dole said she envisions a network of support for wounded warriors and caregivers that will include efforts from government, private companies, nonprofit organizations, labor organizations and the faith community.

Although her initiative is focused on the caregivers of wounded warriors, Dole said families with special-needs children could also benefit from the coalition.

“Many of the initiatives are meant to reduce stress and strain for the entire family and will provide support that, I think, will be helpful for parents of special-needs children, like respite care, like financial planning.”

The Elizabeth Dole Fellows Program is another outreach. Fifty caregivers of wounded warriors — one from each state — represent fellow caregivers in their states and advise the foundation.

The Dole Foundation’s work has natural connections to the Department of Veterans Affairs, and Dole expressed concern over the recent news about mismanagement at VA hospitals around the country.

She called VA Secretary Eric Shinseki “an honorable man with a great background in the military,” but said he leads an agency with longtime systemic issues that must be addressed.

“When you think about people who’ve been placed in harm’s way and who are defending our freedom and our security, there’s a special responsibility that we have to them,” she said. “So it’s very important to get these matters resolved, and the spotlight is on it now.”

Dole said any efforts to support military caregivers require a “holistic” approach.

“If we’re going to have a really effective outcome, we need a national response to this societal crisis.”

May 23, 2014

Stars and Stripes

Caregivers Save the Nation $15 Billion Annually, but Receive Little Support

By Elizabeth Dole and Steve Nardizzi

We are a nation that has been at war for more than 12 years — conflicts that have left more than 60,000 people physically wounded, more than 400,000 people living with invisible wounds like combat stress and post-traumatic stress disorder, and more than 320,000 people with traumatic brain injuries. Many of the brave men and women affected by these wars sacrifice their health, lose their jobs and live in isolation. You may think these individuals are exclusively the brave men and women who fought for our country, but many never put on a uniform — they are the countless hidden heroes caring for wounded warriors on the home front.

While our country is quick to rally behind our military and provide veterans the support they need and deserve, their caregivers, whose sacrifice is just as great, are often overlooked. The Elizabeth Dole Foundation and Wounded Warrior Project teamed up to complete the first comprehensive, evidence-based research study ever undertaken on the needs of military and veteran caregivers. The April 1 release of the study’s findings confirmed that our nation has neglected the most important factor in the recovery and well-being of our wounded veterans — the spouses, parents, siblings and other loved ones who care for them at home.

According to the study, an estimated 5.5 million military and veteran caregivers provide caregiving services for wounded veterans — services that would total $15 billion annually if these dedicated individuals received a paycheck for their tremendous responsibilities. Instead, their efforts are reimbursed with more health problems than civilian caregivers, greater strains in family relationships and more problems in the workplace.

The cost is even greater for those who assist wounded warriors who served in the military after 9/11. These post-9/11 caregivers comprise 20 percent of the nation’s military and veteran caregiver population. The work they miss due to caregiving equates to $5.9 billion annually in lost productivity. Worsening their challenges, many existing caregiver programs have age and relationship qualifications that restrict post-9/11 caregivers from receiving support.

Since the Wounded Warrior Project’s founding just 10 years ago, the organization has provided these hidden heroes the support they deserve through programs and services such as caregiver retreats, writing workshops, and peer support training and activities. The WWP played an instrumental leadership role in the writing and ultimate passage of the groundbreaking Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2010 — the first recognition by the Department of Veterans Affairs and federal government of the obligation to care for caregivers of injured veterans. And this year alone, the WWP committed $30 million dollars to support the long-term care needs of the most severely wounded veterans and their families, ensuring that for decades to come the most vulnerable veterans are able to live as rewarding and independent lives as possible — and that their caregivers are provided with opportunities for the mental, emotional and community assistance that will allow them to thrive as well.

As demonstrated in our RAND report, however, there is still much work to be done. Our nation must act to strengthen the support provided to our military and veteran caregivers. Our response must be holistic, with contributions from the American public, the government, nonprofit organizations, companies and unions to give back for the blessings of freedom and security these warriors and their caregivers make possible.

At an April 11 event at the White House, former Sen. Elizabeth Dole, along with first lady Michelle Obama, Jill Biden, and former first lady Rosalynn Carter, issued a national call to action urging support for military and veteran caregivers. Dole also announced the launch of Hidden Heroes: The National Coalition for Military Caregivers, a nationwide collaboration of committed individuals and organizations that will provide a national response to this societal crisis, working together to raise awareness and provide support to America’s military caregivers.

The Elizabeth Dole Foundation and Wounded Warrior Project are calling on the nation to roll up its sleeves and join us. As we commemorate May as National Military Appreciation Month, let us identify the many ways we can also care for our military and veteran caregivers. We as a nation must join together to lift them up by strengthening our support. They must not endure this sacrifice alone. The time for action is now.

Elizabeth Dole is a former Republican senator from North Carolina and the founder of Caring for Military Families: The Elizabeth Dole Foundation. Steve Nardizzi is the chief executive officer of the Wounded Warrior Project.

Roll Call

May 14, 2014, 2:55 p.m.

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Who’ll Provide Care When Military Caregivers Can’t?

Many of the nation’s “hidden heroes” are parents in their 50s and 60s

By Richard Harris

America’s 5.5 million military caregivers — called “hidden heroes” in a recent Rand Corporation study — are toiling and sacrificing under the radar. More than a million of them (spouses, parents and friends) care for the post-9/11 wounded warriors, who are often young and unmarried.

But what happens if you’ve survived serious injuries in Iraq or Afghanistan only to require a lifetime of medical and family care — perhaps due to a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) — and your primary caregiver is a boomer parent who may be starting to slow down?

Steven Schulz, a Marine Corps Corporal, sustained serious wounds and lost 90 percent of his frontal lobe following a roadside bombing near Fallujah in 2005, his second deployment in Iraq. “When he was injured I was 49 and thought I’d have lots of time,” says his mother Debbie, of Friendswood, Texas. “I’m 58 now and the ticking of the march of time gets a little louder each decade. That is the elephant in the room: What happens when I’m gone?”

She’s among a group of military caregivers, known as Elizabeth Dole Foundation fellows, who flew to Washington this month to lobby Congress for legislation to provide more support to these types of remarkable men and women. (That foundation’s mission is to care for military families.)

These caregivers also attended last Friday’s White House announcement on new government and private efforts to assist military caregivers in several ways, such as:

  • Peer-to-peer support forums offered by the Department of Defense at every military installation around the world to serve wounded warriors and their caregivers
  • A new website to provide free legal, financial and social resources
  • An online guide helping caregivers with contingency planning and decision making
  • Expanded training for caregivers through Easter Seals
  • A pilot initiative by the Chamber of Commerce, called Hiring Our Heroes, to help caregivers find work

Compared to other Washington events I’ve attended as a journalist for NPR and ABC over the years, this gathering in the East Room looked a little different.

There was the bipartisan group of leaders from business and nonprofits who’d signed on.

But most striking was the star power on stage, all women, calling for the country to recognize and get behind the nation’s military caregivers: Two First Ladies (Michelle Obama and Rosalynn Carter); a Second Lady and military mom, Jill Biden and former Senator Elizabeth Dole, whose eyes were first opened to the challenge of military caregiving when her husband, former Senator Majority Leader Bob Dole, returned from World War II and spent nearly a year at Walter Reed with severe injuries.

Michelle Obama and Jill Biden launched the Joining Forces initiative three years ago this month to help bridge the gap between the civilian and military communities.

Mrs. Obama candidly described the enormous sacrifices made by military caregivers this way: “They report more strains on their relationships at work and at home than non-caregivers. Often their own health suffers, and they are at higher risk for depression. And there are financial consequences, too. Military caregivers wind up missing as many as three or four days of work a month — that’s if they have a job or can keep a job. So that means lost income as well.”

As she listened to the First Lady, Jenny Jeffery, 50, from Harrison, Ohio, broke down in tears, all too aware of these effects.

Jeffery, also a Dole fellow, was forced to leave her job after her husband, Mark — a former contractor in Taji, Iraq — twice set the house on fire, first forgetting which buttons to push on the microwave and later, not remembering he had left something on the stove.

After surviving an electrocution during an accident in Iraq, Mark was left with no short-term memory. He suffers from TBI and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from his previous military service there.

Like Schulz, Jeffery worries about what will happen when she’s not around. “I’m 50 and Mark is 53. With his health issues, I will probably outlive him, at least that’s what I hope because I don’t know what to do for him if I’m not here. That’s a heavy burden to put on my daughter,” she says.

The physical and emotional toll on caregivers sometimes prompts what’s known as a “secondary PTSD.”

Jeffery says she’s been the recipient of black eyes and bruises from her husband, who is prone to flashbacks and nightmares. So she is grateful that Mark’s service dog, a Golden Retriever/Yellow Lab mix has developed a unique skill. “When Mark has nightmares, the dog will get on top of him in bed and start licking him. This will wake Mark and calm him down,” notes Jeffery.

Perhaps the most high-profile attention ever given to military caregivers came at the end of President Obama’s State of the Union address in January. That’s when he told the story of Sgt. First Class Cory Remsburg, the Army Ranger nearly killed by a massive roadside bomb during his 10th deployment to Afghanistan.

During the speech, Cory sat between the First Lady and his dad/caregiver, Craig, who helped his son stand to offer a “thumbs up” to an emotional, bipartisan standing ovation.

“Cory’s story is the model,” Mrs. Obama told the caregivers at the White House last week, mentioning family, friends, charities and employers who had joined with Craig and his wife, Annie, to help Cory on his long road back.

Annie Remsburg ultimately quit her Kelly Services job to help Cory with his physical therapy full-time, though she is now back with the flexibility to leave to care for Cory when necessary. Craig has received time off from his employer, Telgian, a provider of safety and security services. Cory lives in a specially-equipped home near them.

Sadly, however, even models have setbacks. Not long after the First Lady’s remarks, Cory was in the ER in Arizona. “He was thinking he could move from point A to point B, fell and hit his head,” his father told me. “Someone with TBI can’t do that too many times.”

Craig Remsberg is 58; Annie is 63. “Probably every week, we talk about what will happen to Cory [when we’re not here], Craig says. “Cory yearns for independence, but for the foreseeable future, he’s going to need 24/7 care and will need help downstream.”

That story is repeated countless times in homes across America.

And at the White House event, with the military caregiving fellows looking on, the First Lady did something publicly that few in Washington ever do: she urged them to “hold our feet to the fire, give us feedback, criticize us, poke us.”

Debbie Schulz, says the plea will be respected. “You can bet we will do that. Caregivers will keep prodding and poking because we’ve learned through advocacy, you can really help your cause,” says Schulz. “I’m a squeaky wheel, I’m a real advocate. I’m not afraid to call Washington.”

Sandwich generation issues only add to the burdens of many boomer military caregivers. Aside from their wounded warrior children, aging parents and ill spouses demand their attention.

“I don’t think the civilian part of the country understands what military caregivers go through,” says Jenny Jeffery. “I hope we can bridge that gap.”

April 14, 2014

PBS Next Avenue

5.5 Million Reasons to Support Military and Veteran Caregivers

by Senator Elizabeth Dole

As I reflect on the national conversation we have initiated about military and veteran caregiving, one number continues to ring out in my mind – 5.5 million.

The RAND Corporation report my Foundation commissioned revealed that 5.5 million Americans are caring for ill or wounded service members and veterans. When I first heard the figure, it astounded me. To think that so many loved ones have been quietly caring for those who have cared for us with such little support is a wake up call for our nation. Many of these caregivers have been serving in this role for years and even decades, while others will serve for years and decades to come.

It seems that for many people, the report’s findings about our post 9-11 caregivers have raised the most urgent concerns. I, too, was struck by some of the unique challenges faced by this new generation of caregivers. One of the most unfortunate facts was that our post 9-11 caregivers are being disqualified for caregiver support programs simply because they are younger. Many are limited to care recipients age 60 or older, which bars 80 percent of those who have served after September 11, 2001. These programs are also frequently limited to immediate family members, which prevents nearly one-third of post 9-11 caregivers from qualifying. If you add to these challenges that post 9-11 caregivers are caring for veterans with multiple injuries, and are more often suffering from psychological wounds, and a higher percentage of their caregivers are more likely to spend over 40 hours a week providing care, the situation is simply alarming.

Yet, while the calls to action for post 9-11 caregivers may have rung the loudest over the first few days following the study’s release, my hope and my mission is to support every person in our nation caring for a service member or veteran. By pursuing RAND’s recommendations we will lift up all of America’s military caregivers, each of whom is a hidden hero.

The beloved man I come home to every evening reminds me that the crisis facing military and veteran caregivers is not specific to any one generation. I think of the countless Saturdays Bob and I spend at the World War II Memorial greeting the Honor Flight groups of veterans seeing their memorial for the first time. I have a better appreciation for the son who traveled across the country with his aging father, just so he could see the long overdue memorial built in his generation’s honor. I notice the veteran walking by the Korean War Veterans Memorial with a weakened knee from an old combat injury and his wife linked to his arm, holding him steady. At the Vietnam Memorial, I see a man putting his hand on the wall as he sheds a tear, and his brother standing close by, always there to help him through the lingering emotional wounds. And I witness a new generation of veterans and service members, and their families, struggling in their transition home from the longest period of war in our nation’s history.

The RAND report shows us that we cannot support every caregiver with a one-size-fits all solution, and while some challenges deserve immediate attention, we seek change that will benefit caregivers of all eras. On April 1, 2014 we told Americans in every corner of the country that there are 5.5 million hidden heroes who deserve their nation’s full support. Let’s work together—united as a coalition—to accomplish that mission ahead of us.

The study was generously supported by the Wounded Warrior Project, the Lilly Endowment and the Cannon Foundation.

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5.5 Million Reasons to Support Military and Veteran Caregivers

Dole/Rich: Military caregivers are hidden heroes

Many are family members who don’t get the recognition and help that they deserve.

Right now there are 5.5 million wives, husbands, siblings, parents, children and friends devoted to the care of those injured fighting America’s wars. Theirs is an all-consuming, emotionally draining task, one that has been driven for too long by loyalty and love, but little support.

This population of military caregivers in the United States has largely been hidden. They are an unpaid national workforce providing services worth $15 billion annually to those who returned from the battlefield with injuries, disabilities and emotional scars that may last a lifetime. These are costs that would otherwise be assumed by home health care aides or by institutional care facilities. In other words, those who give so much of themselves to care for injured or ill loved ones not only deserve help, they have earned it.

For those looking after the young service members and veterans of America’s most recent conflicts, the battle has just begun, and often they find themselves facing this challenging reality alone. What services are available through public, private, nonprofit and faith-based organizations are neither coordinated nor easily accessible.

The Dole foundation which helps address the needs of military caregivers, commissioned the RAND Corporation to conduct the largest study ever undertaken to help identify gaps in the policies and programs that support them.

RAND found that there are 5.5 million military caregivers in America, and that 1.1 million of them are caring for those who served in the military after the terrorist attacks of 9/11. These caregivers, mostly young, face challenges that can make their mission even more daunting than that of the generations who came before them.

This new cohort of military caregivers is composed largely of individuals caring for injured spouses, parents caring for their children, or friends caring for their neighbors. Many are veterans themselves. They are more likely to be caring for loved ones with mental and cognitive impairments like PTSD and traumatic brain injury — the invisible wounds of war. Current services to support caregivers may be less relevant to this new generation in a caregiving journey that, for many, could last decades.

RAND’s research tells us that those caring for post-9/11 veterans are suffering adverse effects at a much higher rate than caregivers from prior war eras or civilian caregivers. They spend more time providing care and — because of the multiple and serious conditions they are caring for — consistently experience more health problems, financial challenges, strains in family relationships, and have more workplace issues than non-caregivers. These caregivers need holistic services and support.

The Dole Foundation is using the RAND research as a cornerstone for building a national coalition involving individuals and organizations across the public, private, nonprofit, faith, and labor communities. The foundation also will continue to encourage collaboration and invest in innovative initiatives that meet military caregiver needs. To give voice to caregivers, the foundation has announced a 50-state Caregiver Fellows Program; individuals actively serving as caregivers across America serve as powerful ambassadors and advocates for their fellow caregivers.

This is an urgent societal issue that deserves a national response. The most effective way to start is by prioritizing evidence-based research, leveraging existing resources, breaking down silos, and encouraging collaboration. It is a mistake to believe the government should or will shoulder this responsibility alone.

The RAND study makes it clear that there is no silver bullet. The Departments of Veterans Affairs, Defense, Health and Human Services, Labor, and others have an important role to play, but so do employers, labor, health care providers, nonprofits, faith communities, and state and local governments. And individuals in every community across the country can play a role, too, by raising awareness, helping a neighbor or friend, donating funds, or volunteering.

America owes a great debt to those who served in our armed forces, and especially those who return home injured or emotionally damaged. But a great debt is also due to the millions who look after them. Caregivers facing decades of sacrifice to care for post-9/11 veterans should get special attention. America’s hidden heroes deserve no less.

Elizabeth Dole is founder and president of Caring for Military Families: The Elizabeth Dole Foundation. Michael Rich is president and chief executive officer of the RAND Corporation.

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