I feel empowered that we made it through the toughest days together.
What is one piece of advice you would offer to other military and veteran caregivers?
I encourage them to accept the challenges as they come and to look for the positive in all situations. I found that once I accepted that our life post-combat and post-injury would have unique challenges, I was able to feel more empowered to find ways to cope with the challenges. I always try to find the positive in situations and remember that even in the hardest moments, that there is always something to be thankful for.
At what moment did you realize you were a military caregiver?
When I realized that there was a real possibility that I was going to have to navigate this life alone. I guess I do not remember the exact moment when this happened, but I think I realized the magnitude of what we were dealing with and I knew that my husband needed me to be more than just a spouse for him. My husband was dealing with so much mental and physical anguish that he was unable to be the husband and father that I know he so desperately wanted to be. He was just not present, literally or figuratively. I had to take on sole responsibility for taking care of our children and keeping the wheel turning for our family. I had to start thinking and making plans for an uncertain future. I had to be strong and keep putting one foot in front of the other, because I did not have another choice. It was the most difficult thing that I have ever had to do.
How has your life changed since you became a caregiver? What sacrifices have you had to make?
There have been many times throughout our marriage that I felt as though I did not have the strength to be his wife anymore. The ups and downs, the self-medicating, and the uncertainty seemed like more than I could take. However, I knew that I had to stay strong for him and for my children. My children needed their father and they needed me to be supportive to him so that he could continue to battle against the physical pain and mental anguish. I had to find an inner strength that I did not know that I had prior to this. I learned to forgive and move forward as I was working toward a goal that was bigger than myself. While this has been a difficult journey, it truly transformed me into a stronger and more grateful person. My husband always says that everyone should have a moment where they are near death because it makes them realize how precious life is. I feel pride that I was able to keep stay strong and keep fighting when many would have given up and walked away.
Andrea Dorsey of Omaha, Nebraska is a military caregiver to Joe, her husband of 10 years and Purple Heart recipient. Joe was injured in a improvised explosive device (IED) explosion in Iraq in 2004, returning home with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), sleep disorders, and neck and back injuries that have progressively worsened over the years. In her caregiving role, Andrea provides constant emotional support and searches for additional resources for Joe as he continues to cope with the everlasting visible and invisible wounds of war. She is also a strong advocate for his care, working to find resources for her husband inside and outside of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
In addition to caring for her husband, Andrea is also a public-school teacher, and has struggled to find balance between her career and caring for Joe, even using her sick days to take care of him, due to the lack of flexible work options available to her. A mother of two children, Andrea stays busy with participating in their children's sports and social activities, and volunteering at her church.
Like many caregivers across the country, Andrea often feels extremely isolated and has difficulty connecting with other military caregivers in her area who can relate to her experiences. Joe is very private and struggles with the experiences he had in Iraq, and Andrea doesn’t often feel like she can reach out to find her own support. Despite these challenges, the couple believes wholeheartedly that there is still hope and reason to keep fighting. It is because of these experiences that they have both committed themselves to helping other veterans and their families.
In her role as a Dole Caregiver Fellow, Andrea is determined to be a representative for other military caregivers struggling with similar issues. As a caregiver who has not been recognized by her husband’s health care team, she looks forward to becoming involved in the Foundation’s Campaign for Inclusive Care, an initiative that works to integrate caregivers into their veterans’ health care. Andrea also played a critical role in Nebraska officially signing on as a Hidden Heroes state.