Elizabeth Dole Foundation
Hidden Heroes
Caregiver Journey Map Campaign for Inclusive Care

Carolyn Tolliver-Lee

In order to help your veteran, you must take care of yourself emotionally, physically, spiritually and mentally!

What does being a military caregiver mean to you?

Being a caregiver means advocating for my disabled veteran to ensure he receives optimum care while residing in a long-term care facility; keeping him connected to family; raising his standard of well-being; encouraging him to be connected to the local community and promoting his sense of belonging with others through church.

How has your life changed since you became a caregiver? What sacrifices have you had to make?

My social circle has greatly changed – abandoned by former friends and family members. My greatest sacrifice is living alone without companionship and community support other than the support from my workplace/co-workers.

What advice would you offer to other military and veteran caregivers?

In order to help your veteran, you must take care of yourself emotionally, physically, spiritually, and mentally!

My Story

Carolyn had shared more than a few years of marriage with Earnest when he was in “good health,” before he began having grand mal seizures. He was a Scout in the US Army for 10 years at the onset of his illness. Earnest was honorably medically discharged with full benefits in 1993 and, along with their sons, Carolyn became a caregiver. In 2003, Earnest suffered global brain damage as a result of multiple uncontrollable seizures that left him in constant need of supervision and care. A litany of medical problems eventually required placement into a nursing home where he continues to live today.

Carolyn is the founder and organizer of Veteran and Military Caregivers Support Network in Kansas. After several years as a caregiver/advocate for Earnest, she became desperate to identify and connect with other caregivers in and around her area. Carolyn knew that she needed support from people, especially those who understood and could relate to her “new-normal” life as a caregiver. Carolyn's new identity as a veteran caregiver unexpectedly changed her life. Friendships and various family relationships were severed. She found herself ostracized because of the limitations caregiving had placed upon her.

As a Dole Caregiver Fellow, Carolyn hopes to use this platform to inform Kansas’ communities about the distinct needs of veteran and military caregivers, with a focus on caregivers experiencing post-traumatic stress, grief, and loneliness. Her military career as a Family Life Educator and Consultant has proven to encourage her devotion to helping veteran and military families. Carolyn's passion is to help other caregivers and regain her sense of autonomy.