By Dole Caregiver Fellow Jennie Beller
My fervent wish is that we could get rid of the Pre-9/11 and Post-9/11 caregiver classification system. I am not sure where it started. For those of us who are caregivers of Vietnam Veterans or other forgotten wars – I feel your rage – your anger – and especially the nagging question: Why isn’t my veteran’s service good enough? This is not going to be a political post. I can only share my experience as an Elizabeth Dole Foundation Caregiver Fellow.
When I first heard about the Foundation’s Dole Caregiver Fellowship Program, my first thought was: Am I eligible because I am pre-9/11 military caregiver? I was delighted to discover that Foundation advocates for military and veteran caregivers of all military eras including peacetime. My next concern was how post-9/11 veteran caregivers would view a pre-9/11 veteran caregiver. I was surprised to discover that the vast majority of post-9/11 were against the classification and they accepted me as just another military caregiver. My goal as a Dole Caregiver Fellow is to raise awareness of services that are available for caregivers of veterans of all eras with a special focus on educating Pre-9/11 caregivers. I want to tear down the great divide.
This September, I was able to attend the Hidden Heroes Campaign launch. As part of the week, Dole Caregiver Fellows from around the country stormed the Hill and spoke with our Congressmen/Congresswomen and Senators. One of the bills we advocated for was HR 1969, the Military and Veteran Caregiver Services Improvement Act, which opens the VA Caregiver Program to all eras (and is a top Foundation priority). I explained to my representatives that this pending legislation, while tearing down the classification of caregivers by era, still continues to omit caregivers of veterans who suffer from presumptive illnesses. It was a privilege to speak for so many caregivers who deal with the aftermath of war decades later. But I am only one voice.
I would like to encourage pre-9/11 caregivers to participate on the HiddenHeros.org website and to apply for an Elizabeth Dole Foundation Fellowship. There are a number of misconceptions out there that need to be cleared up. There is work to do. If you are a spouse, child, or friend who provides or coordinates care for a WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Gulf War veteran or a veteran who served during peacetime – GET INVOLVED. There are benefits and help available for all caregivers through a variety of sources including the Veterans’ Administration. No one should have to go it alone in the lonely business of caregiving.