The moment I realized that I was a caregiver was the most empowering moment... I could begin to identify with some of the struggles caregivers face and seek out a community of support.
At what moment did you realize you were a military caregiver?
I had been providing care to my husband for years before I realized there was even such a thing as a military caregiver. I was lucky enough to know a few friends though Team Red, White & Blue who were registered caregivers with the VA and they mentioned caregiving. That moment changed how I understood my role with my husband. I started to realize the amount of constant stress I was under and the extra ways I was caring for my husband. I’m so thankful for that conversation, as it led me to seek resources from the VA and to find the Dole Foundation. From then on, I wanted to share my story with as many people as possible to help others in a similar position.
How has your life changed since you became a caregiver? What sacrifices have you had to make?
Since becoming a caregiver, my stress level has skyrocketed. For so long I didn’t realize how large a toll the stress was taking on my body until my health began to worsen as a result. Finding support within the Hidden Heroes Caregiver Community was vital and I began to understand how to better care for myself to be a better caregiver.
What is one piece of advice you would offer to other military and veteran caregivers?
I would tell other caregivers to prioritize self-care. It doesn’t have to be something huge, but carving out a little time for yourself to recharge each day is vital to keeping ourselves mentally and physically healthy.
Kelly Hunsucker of Stockton, California is a military caregiver to her husband Josh. They met while attending the University of California Davis where Josh was in Army ROTC.
After a 15-month deployment to Iraq in 2008 as a light infantry platoon officer, Josh sustained both visible and invisible injuries that include post traumatic stress and debilitating migraines. Josh separated from the Army in 2010 and pursued a law degree with Kelly’s support.
Kelly continues to support Josh as a caregiver around the clock. She manages his medications, helps to schedule appointments, takes care of household chores, supports him with calming techniques during stressful days, and steps in to make the necessary adjustments to daily life when a migraine lasts for days, all while simultaneously caring for their three children and maintaining a robust volunteer schedule. She also works to encourage Josh to go out and be active as much as possible, supporting him as he trains for half marathons. Kelly sometimes struggles to dig deep to help her family when she herself feels burned out. Yet, because of other caregivers she has met, she feels supported and able to empower others in similar circumstances.
Kelly is the Chapter Captain for the Stockton chapter of Team Red, White & Blue, and organizes local events that bring veterans, their families, and fellow community members together to participate in various physical and social activities. Kelly has made tremendous strides in bringing veteran and caregiver issues to the forefront in her community, spearheading the first ever “Stockton Veterans Week,” and helping the City of Stockton become involved in the Foundation’s Hidden Heroes Cities program. She also serves as a Red Cross Military and Veteran Caregiver Peer Mentor, and is a substitute teacher and board member at her children's school.
As a Dole Fellow, Kelly hopes to continue to raise awareness of the struggles that military and veteran caregivers face by sharing her story with as many people as possible, emphasizing the importance of prioritizing both self-care and mental health. She also wants to shine a light on how children respond to caring for an ill or injured parent, as they often assume secondary caregiving roles.