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

Jennifer Nelson

Post service, we are the Commanders of the Homefront, only we know the unique mission set we have.

What does being a military caregiver mean to you?

It means continuing the good fight. For me, caregiving has meant helping my husband, and myself, continue being active community members to support others going through a similar mental or physical struggle. It is being the cheerleader and commander behind closed doors to give them support to continue living beyond their wounds. It also requires patience and mental fortitude to keep yourself going, goal setting, and making incredible sacrifices.

Does one day stand out as the most challenging you have faced?

Three months post-injury, I had our daughter. Everyone around me kept saying that I wouldn’t be able to juggle motherhood and caregiving. I felt like no one believed in me.

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

It is not what I thought it would look like, but it has strengthened me and our relationship. I have learned and done things I never thought I would. I shoulder a lot more responsibilities than before, yet God has truly blessed us in so many ways since the injury.

My Story

Jennifer is a caregiver to her husband, Captain Nathan Nelson. On September 23, 2013, Nathan was hit by a 107mm rocket in Ghazni Province, Afghanistan while serving in his third tour with a joint special operations team. Most of his injuries healed, except for the most debilitating one which was a C7 spinal cord injury. On the outside he is living life, but they endure a litany of complications with deep tissue injuries, nightly skin checks, hip dysplasia, bone deformities, shortening of muscular tissues, involuntary muscle spasms, and more. She assists her husband in his daily living routine from dressing him for work, to helping him over steps, recovery after a fall, packing deep tissue injuries, documenting, and physical therapy among many other things. She is also his advocate, a full-time mother, and successful realtor. Jennifer does a lot of medical research and finds that she is often educating civilian medical personnel on things that Nathan needs when seeking treatment. This is often not welcomed by medical professionals, as she does not have a degree in medicine.

As a Dole Caregiver Fellow, Jennifer hopes to discuss the life-long critical care needs of spinal cord injury and other massive catastrophic injuries, as well as understanding the secondary post traumatic stress that caregivers face in the wake of their spouses’ injuries. She wants to help empower caregivers to keep advocating, keep researching, and keep doing. Post-service, caregivers are the Commanders of the Homefront. Only they know the unique mission set they have, and the education and contingency planning that comes along with it.