Elizabeth Dole Foundation
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Jim Clark

It was painful to see the people I love so much, hurting so much.

What is one piece of advice you would offer to other military and veteran caregivers?

It is essential to offer care as a team. My wife was able to be the vigilant record keeper while she also continued to work. I was able to encourage and support her efforts as well as our son’s. Encouragement and teamwork are the key.

At what moment did you realize you were a caregiver?

When I witnessed the suffering of our veteran son and how life-altering it was. His mother made every effort to intervene for his needs because he was completely unable to. It was too complicated and burdensome for any veteran in need and even too much for someone with a dedicated advocate. I knew I needed to be there every step of the way for the long journey ahead.

What does being a military or veteran caregiver mean to you?

Being a military caregiver means assisting our wounded veteran in any way that I can by offering care, encouragement, support, and hope. I feel it is essential to create a stable family environment not only to meet the extreme demands of care, but to offer safety, security, and meaningful life experiences beyond the wounds.

My Story

When Jim Clark recognized how invisible wounds were taking over the life of his stepson Joe, he knew that he would take action and support him as a caregiver. No matter what was needed, he was committed to be there for Joe. 

Joe deployed to Iraq in 2003 as an Army Reservist with the first wave of Operation Iraqi Freedom. When Joe first returned home, Jim thought he was doing well—Joe had bought a house and secured full-time employment. However, when Joe’s illness progressed and he lost his job and home and came to live with his mother and Jim in 2005, he knew their lives would be forever altered.

While Joe was first diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), other mysterious symptoms began to appear. By age 37, Joe was diagnosed and treated for geriatric illnesses and doctors have not been able to determine what led to his chronic leg condition, fibrous tumors in his feet, and the loss of his teeth. As Jim watched the growing list of challenges Joe faced, he knew he would have to be ever vigilant with his care.

At first, they could not get Joe adequate care with the VA, so they had to pay out of pocket. Though they found a way to avoid bankruptcy, the daily physical, emotional, and mental demands took their toll.

Jim helps Joe by cooking meals, taking him to appointments, picking up medications, and working with his wife to continue to provide opportunities for Joe’s growth. He has been able to empower Joe with skills to help his memory and has also started teaching him carpentry and fishing skills.

Joe’s mother, Cynde, served as a 2018 Dole Caregiver Fellow, working with their family to create an all-volunteer nonprofit serving veterans and families. Jim continues his own advocacy and hopes that as a Fellow he can be an active participant in heightening the awareness that caregivers need sustained, meaningful support from the VA for the duration of their veteran loved one’s care.