The blisters have nearly healed. It’s been almost three weeks since I traveled DC with a marvelous group of nearly 60 men and women who are part of the Elizabeth Dole Foundation’s Caregiver Fellows Program. During this trip I reconnected with old friends and met new friends I’ve only known online. We spent time sharing our stories and experiences with one another and forging a special bond that can only be felt by those who have been through similar experiences. And we walked for miles on the endless marble and concrete that is Capitol Hill.
We spent Thursday on Capitol Hill meeting individually with our congressional leaders to present the findings of the newly released RAND study Hidden Heroes: America’s Military Caregivers and to explain why this study matters, why these statistics are more than numbers on a page, and to give a face to the 5.5 million military and veteran caregivers in our nation.
That morning Senator Patty Murray introduced S.2243 – Military and Veteran Caregiver Services Improvement Act of 2014. A related bill was previously introduced in the House by Representative Elizabeth Etsy. H.R.3383 – Caregivers Expansion and Improvement Act of 2013. You can watch Senator Murry introduce her bill here Murray Introduces Major Military and Veteran Caregiver Bill.
On Friday we attended a Joining Forces event at the White House where First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, along with former First Lady Rosalynn Carter and Senator Dole, announced programs and initiatives designed to support caregivers of the nation’s veterans and active duty service members. You can watch these announcements at this link Support for Military and Veterans’ Caregivers.
While being invited to the White House (and sitting in the front row!) was immensely exciting, the event had a larger impact as I looked around the White House reception and realized that everywhere I looked was the familiar face of a caregiver. For the first time ever we had a collective voice on a national level, a voice that reached far beyond the walls of the White House into the homes of other caregivers who, like us, have been fighting for years to be heard.
Empowering. To be part of a group gathered with common concerns and goals working to make changes in our own lives, and the lives of others. To reflect on the past eight years and recall how utterly alone I felt when this journey started. To realize, at last, it was time to address the needs of the caregivers. We will not be still.
Learn more about the Elizabeth Dole Foundation and Hidden Heroes: The National Coalition for Military Caregivers at www.elizabethdolefoundation.org.
You can read the entire RAND report entitled Hidden Heroes: America’s Military Caregivers at this link http://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR499.html.