Elizabeth Dole Foundation
Hidden Heroes
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Jennifer Thornton

I didn’t consider myself a caregiver, I thought I was just a stressed out spouse trying to making everything happen.

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

I try to focus on the positive things. I can’t change my situation, so it is what it is. My strength comes from remembering who I am and the things I want accomplish in life. I’m going back to school so I can be a registered play therapist, an additional certification (I am already a licensed Masters level social worker). I still have my dreams and goals. While there are so many things I can’t control, there are many that I can, so that’s where I focus my time.

What do you think is the biggest misconception civilians have about your situation?

People actually give me more credit than I deserve. They think that I am super organized, which couldn’t be further from the truth. Everyday is a struggle and the struggle is real. At times I might make it look easier than it is, perhaps because I have been caregiving for so long.

What do you think is the biggest misconception the military community has about your situation?

When we were at Ft. Lewis I was taking care of everyone else’s families while mine was falling apart (I was the Family Readiness Group leader for my husband’s company). I ran into someone who said, “Jason didn’t deploy. Oh, you’re so lucky.” And I remember thinking, “I’m not so lucky. My child is not so lucky.” Because we don’t deploy anymore, people think we don’t have the same hardships. But my husband has been in so many treatment centers for so long, he could have gone on two deployments in the time he’s been away from our child.

My Story

Jennifer's husband, Jason, served two tours of duty in Iraq before being medically retired from the Army for severe post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Doctors later learned Jason also has a traumatic brain injury (TBI) and struggles with depression, chronic back and knee pain, balance problems, and suicidal ideation. They sought help for him in numerous inpatient and rehabilitation centers across the country.

As a Dole Caregiver Fellow, Jennifer draws on her experience as a public school teacher to educate caregivers about how to navigate caregiving, and how to build an arsenal of resources for problem solving.