Caregivers of veterans and active servicemembers will benefit from new programs announced today by First Lady Michelle Obama along with former Sen. Elizabeth Dole, Dr. Jill Biden, and former first lady Rosalynn Carter.
"It's going to take all of us working together to get you to a place where you feel that you live in a country that appreciates your service - because you do," Michelle Obama told military caregivers gathered in the East Room, some accompanied by wounded warriors. The First Lady and Dr. Biden launched a veteran support initiative called Joining Forces in 2011.
Mrs. Obama said that over the next 14 months, the Department of Defense will form peer-to-peer support forums for caregivers, the family members who support injured soldiers, often losing time at work, or their jobs altogether, and facing a slew of new challenges as they care for loved ones.
The announcement comes on the heels of the largest-ever RAND Corp. study of caregivers' needs, which was commissioned by the Elizabeth Dole Foundation. The study, which focused on post-911 veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, found that more than a third of the caregivers are under 30, 60% are female, and two-thirds are at risk for major depression. It also found that very few programs have been created to support caregivers.
"The Rand report is a clarion call," Dole said. "It is up to us, those of us in this room, and to people of goodwill across our great country, to answer the call. And here is my answer: I'm 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." She said the coalition is a partnership of public, private, nonprofit, labor, and faith communities who have come together to provide services and support for military caregivers.
As a newly formed Military and Veteran Caregiver Peer Support Network, a slew of groups will be cooperating to lend support for caregivers: the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Public Counsel, the American Bar Association, Military Officers Association of America, Easter Seals Dixon Center, Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving, National Alliance for Caregiving, Family Caregiver Alliance, Caregiver Action Network, and Jewish Chaplains Council of the Jewish Community Centers Association.
Dole also announced backing from the disparate likes of AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and evangelical pastor Joel Osteen.
The Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) has also committed to training 10 "master trainers," 50 trainers, and 10,000 peer mentors for caregiver support. The Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) will launch a website to offer financial and legal guidance, while the Chamber of Commerce will expand its current job-fair program for caregivers.
"As a military mom, this is something close to my heart," Biden said. "I've had the honor to meet with caregivers at Walter Reed, Fort Belvoir, and at bases around the world. Their loyalty, love, and devotion is truly inspiring."
Dole recounted her experience caring for her husband, former senator and presidential nominee Bob Dole, when he was hospitalized at Walter Reed in 2012.
"My eyes were opened," Dole said, telling the East Room audience that "a story of profound need is emerging" as family members care for their loved ones after military service.
Carter, too, recalled her own experience as a military wife.
"As a Navy wife myself, I experienced the challenges of balancing family and work while my husband was at sea," Carter said. "I cannot imagine how it would be to so eagerly anticipate a loved one coming home and instead of unbridled joy, to those caregiving demands that [they] never before imagined."
Earlier this week, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington State, also introduced the Military and Veteran Caregiver Services Improvement Act, which extends services to caregivers, expands eligibility, improves compensation and places greater emphasis on mental health injuries such as TBI and PTSD.
"Thank you for showing us what bravery and courage and passion means…and we're not done till we serve you as well as you served us," Mrs. Obama told the more than 40 caregivers who attended the White House event. "This is not just a celebration. It's a call to action, to match the service of our veterans' caregivers with service of our own."