- - Friday, June 5, 2015

Holding people accountable for their promises and actions is a tedious and difficult task — and inspiring. Last year while in Washington, D.C., I joined the Elizabeth Dole Foundation at the White House for the launch of “National Call to Action” to help support military caregivers. With such high-profile guests as First Lady Michelle Obama and Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, it was easy to get caught up in the belief that America was hearing the silent pleas for help by military caregivers. Recognizing that behind every injured veteran is a caregiver working around the clock. Hearing the call to action, the promises made, I sat and wondered if any change would happen.

A year later, I was back in D.C. at the Ronald Reagan building for the foundation’s 2015 Hidden Heroes Coalition Summit: Progress and Promise. This year’s guests included Veteran Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald and, once again, Mrs. Obama. There was even a video appearance by actor Tom Hanks, announcing the fall launch of the Hidden Heroes Campaign. Sitting among my fellow caregivers, I watched and wondered, were the promises of helping to support our nation’s hidden heroes upheld?

Yes.

In the past year with the support of Mrs. Obama and Jill Biden, wife of the vice president, the Department of Defense and Joining Forces created more than 60  caregiving support groups at military bases, online resources and helped raise awareness within the military community as to the ongoing needs of military caregivers. The online support can be found at Whitehouse.gov/caregivers.
I live near Hanscom Air Force Base in Massachusetts and earlier this year I was notified of one of the support groups being formed at Hanscom. Since military caregivers are in multiple locations, both state-side and overseas, these support groups need to continue to be established at as many military installations as possible.

During the past year, Elizabeth Dole, the former senator, drew together more than 100 private, public and non-profit entities to develop tangible solutions to help military caregivers in a national, nonpartisan coalition. With the cooperation of House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi, Sens. John McCain and Jack Reed, and Rep. Jeff Miller established the Hidden Heroes Congressional Caucus in July — which led to bipartisan legislation reintroduced by Sen. Patty Murray to help improve the VA military caregiver program.

Additionally, the Dole foundation worked with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation to expand its Hiring Our Heroes program to include military caregivers. When a service member or veteran becomes ill or is injured, the caregiver often becomes the primary source of income. Hiring Our Heroes works to ensure that a suitable employment match is made, along with providing the caregiver resume assistance and job-hunting tips. Employers at their job fairs are pre-screened and educated about the benefits that a caregiver may provide for a company, such as flexible work options, positive work ethic and calm under pressure. This program not only opens the doors to employment for military caregivers, it has the potential to assist other types of caregivers within the United States.

In February 2015, the Dole foundation hosted an Impact Forum which drew a variety of people and organizations that volunteer their time to come up with additional viable solutions over a two-day period. Their mission is simple: Donate their time to help our nation’s 5.5 million military caregivers.

For example, the Impact Forum helped Dr. Kara Gagnon, an assistant clinical professor at Yale University who worked as a medical provider for 18 years at the VA, is now founder and CEO of the non-profit Braveminds Inc. She credits her participation in Dole foundation events for influencing upcoming Braveminds programs.

As a part of my week in D.C., I “Stormed the Hill” with 70 other Elizabeth Dole Foundation Fellows, meeting congressional representatives in the offices of Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Katherine Clark, to advocate for military caregivers. I met with the same aids in Ms. Clark’s office that I talked with last year and the warm reception that I received from both offices was encouraging.

Spending a week in D.C. was a wonderfully exhausting experience. More importantly, being able to see accountability and results for promises made a year earlier gave me hope. Our nation is not yet where it needs to be in terms of supporting veterans and military caregivers, but America is further than where we were last year. Let’s all hold ourselves accountable and continue to move forward with beneficial actions.

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