Advocate for yourself and your family and find others who will do so too.
What are you most excited to do as a Dole Caregiver Fellow?
I’m excited to help work on policy that addresses the gaps in the system and will make actional changes for other veteran and caregiver families. Hopefully, they won’t struggle as we’ve had to struggle to try to obtain accessible and equitable support for rural veteran families.
What is one piece of advice you would offer to other military and veteran caregivers?
Never quit trying. It’s okay to feel hopeless, and it’s okay to feel depressed and stressed beyond anything you’ve gone through before because none of this is normal. Ask for help, keep calling, keep documenting, and keep going to appointments. At some point, someone will be able to help you all find the right diagnosis, right doctor, therapist, and treatment.
What does being a military or veteran caregiver mean to you?
It means being there for my spouse, even when no one else was, and going through the unknown with him. The instability of the unknown was the hardest part of our journey, but finally getting answers and outcomes was a relief. We then knew what we were fighting up against. It solidified us as a team working together.
Coming from a military family, Leann thought she would join the military herself. Instead, she went to college to earn a degree in psychology and social services. While in school, she met her husband Jerrod when he was on leave from a deployment to Afghanistan. At the time, she never anticipated that her schooling would end up training her to be her future husband’s caregiver.
Jerrod’s injuries started to worsen before he left the Marines, and after a few short years, he had a range of diagnoses including traumatic brain injury (TBI), functional neurological disorder, seizures, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), sleep disorders, chronic cough and sinusitis due to burn pit exposure, and several injuries to his knees, wrist, and back that made him disabled and unemployable.
The level of care Jerrod required from Leann eventually forced her to leave the workforce too. Their unemployment, combined with Jerrod’s lack of benefits due to delays, mishandling, and appeals, forced Jerrod, Leann, and their young son into homelessness. They were admitted to the Supportive Services for Veterans Families (SSVF) who are at risk of losing their home or currently experiencing homelessness. After, they temporarily lived with Leann’s mother before liquidating their retirement and moving into a small trailer in her father’s backyard when, finally, Jerrod’s disability claims were processed and approved. Climbing out of homelessness and reestablishing her family within six months was one of Leann’s hardest and proudest periods as a caregiver.
Now settled in a new house, they were able to provide living arrangements for Jerrod’s friend, also a disabled veteran, who struggled with homelessness. Leann continues to seek stable employment that allows her to work in social services, help other families in crisis, while also having a flexible schedule to care for her husband’s needs. COVID-19 pandemic layoffs, quarantine, and lack of benefits and stability have impacted Leann’s options. As a family, they are passionate about rescuing livestock guardian dogs, leading them to adopt three of their own, and spending time in their garden, with hopes of one day owning a small farm.
As a Dole Caregiver Fellow, Leann hopes to work on policies that address gaps in the veterans’ health system and improve access to care for rural veterans and caregivers.