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

Jenifer Smith

Being a veteran caregiver means being a warrior, cheerleader, and advocate.

At what moment did you realize you were a military caregiver?

When I got the call that Steve had a parachute accident in Iraq and I would need to provide total care.

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

I am a nurse, mother, and wife. When my husband was injured, our lives changed. I quit my job as a nurse in the community and became my husband’s nurse.

What is a quote that inspires you or keeps you motivated?

“Worrying will not change the outcome.”

My Story

Jenifer Smith knew life was going to change forever when she got the call in 2003 that her husband Steve, was in a parachute accident while deployed to Iraq. The accident broke his back, both legs, pelvis, and clavicle; dislocated both shoulders; resulted in a traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); and caused him to suffer chronic migraines, seizures, and memory loss. A nurse by trade, Jenifer had the knowledge and ability to care for her husband, but she had no idea the challenges she would face as a caregiver, wife, and mother.  

Jenifer ultimately had to give up her job as a nurse to care for her two teenage children and become a full-time caregiver to Steve. Helping and encouraging him every step of the way, Steve was eventually able to take a few steps on his own and can now walk short distances with a cane.  

However catastrophic the fall, the family was to face further challenges. In 2009, on the day they were to celebrate their daughter being on the homecoming court at her high school, Steve was diagnosed with leukemia due to chemical exposure he endured during combat missions. Jenifer took the news hard, but was determined that any challenges they faced, they would work through together as a family.  

As Steve’s caregiver, Jenifer helps him with all his daily needs such as bathing, dressing, driving, household duties, money management, medication monitoring and administration, oncology appointments, and seizure monitoring.  

Jenifer’s children were also caregivers and watched their dad go from a strong military officer to a disabled and depressed man. They helped their mom and dad through the surgeries and the ups and downs of life, and they have adapted to their parents being caregiver and care recipient. Now, Jenifer hopes she can raise awareness about what children caregivers go through and identify resources to help them.