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

Faun and Danny O’Neel

I’m taking over for my soldier. He did his part, he fought where he needed to fight, and now it’s my turn.

What does being a military caregiver mean to you?

Faun: I’m taking over for my soldier. He did his part, he fought where he needed to fight, and now it’s my turn. My job is an extension of his. It’s taking the load that he’s carried and helping him figure it out.

Danny: Same, except I try to help the guys who still aren’t sure what to do each day. They don’t know how to enrich their lives, how to make an appointment at the VA or how to get a disability rating. Being able to empower them is the biggest part for me. It doesn’t seem hard since I’ve been motivating people my whole life.

How do you find strength in the difficulty of your day-to-day?

Danny: I frequently post on Facebook and get messages and phone calls from fellow veterans who say they found strength in something I posted. I call some of my friends who aren’t on social media to check on them. I find strength when they call me and say, “I was having a bad time.” I understand my friends – I was suicidal, I tried to take my own life, I thought I was worthless. I can never forget the stuff we had to do survive that makes me forget how strong I am.

Faun: We all sit down and have dinner together and talk. We’ll say, “Nobody died today, we’re all here. Today was a good day.” That might be all we can be thankful for that day, but it’s enough.

What changes did you have to make in your life to adjust to the challenges?

Faun – I had to make my circle a lot smaller. There were a lot of people who didn’t understand what Danny and I were going through. Whether it was natural selection or me cutting people out, my circle became smaller, but stronger. I weeded out fairweather friends to focus on those who are going to be there when it’s really bad.

Danny – My communication skills in general have gotten a lot better. When I spoke as a squad leader it was like I was God… we were in life and death situations. As a civilian and a caregiver, I had to learn that I could handle situations with poise and not grit. The biggest change for me was learning how to listen to someone else tell me their story so that I could empathize with them. It took a lot of practice of putting aside what I had been through to focus on the person that was talking.

My Story

Faun is a caregiver for her husband Danny. Both Faun and Danny are caregivers for two veterans whom the O’Neels have welcomed into their homes.

We’re both now dedicated to helping other vets heal and currently care for two veterans living in our home as they recover.

As Dole Fellows, we work as a pair. I (Danny) provide encouragement and support through deeply emotional parts of treatment. I (Faun) bring my now vast knowledge of the VA, resources and connections to help vets get the treatment and resources they need.