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

Lori Smith-Starnes

Stand strong, know your limits and that of the person you care for, and reach out to... others who will stand strong with you.

What are you most excited to do as a Dole Caregiver Fellow?

To be able to have a solid foundation through education, mentors, and other Dole Fellows. To be able to spread a positive word and let others know that there is help out there so that no soldier will ever walk alone.

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

I never realized the challenges I would face and that the life I had planned with my retiree would not be what we had dreamed of. That it would be different now and that I had to come to terms with that. Finding the new normal as a wife and mother of veterans is testing my resolve, but I know that my being there for them is as vital as anything to them.

What does being a military caregiver mean to you?

My family has done so much and we are a proud military family. For me, it means standing strong by my husband, my son, and now my daughter, taking care of them and learning how to live a new normal.

My Story

Lori Starnes of Waikoloa, Hawaii met and married Dave, a soldier in the United States Army, over 20 years ago. In 2010, Dave was injured while serving on a combat tour in Afghanistan during his ninth deployment. In 2014 her son, Russ Starnes was injured while deployed. Over the past nine years, Lori has been a full-time caregiver to her husband and now also a part-time caregiver to her son. Dave and Russ both suffer from post traumatic stress and Dave also has traumatic brain injury (TBI), severe hearing loss, and debilitating migraines. Lori's strength was also tested when two of her family members were faced with cancer diagnoses and chemo treatments. She gave up her trip to Washington, D.C. the with 2019 Fellows to stay and care for her family.

Lori assists Dave daily with medications, driving, scheduling appointments, and all household chores and financials. She does everything she can to support Dave and Russ as they struggle with daily obstacles but life has forever changed for this strong military family. Looking back, life was altered way before the last deployment. Lori also has a daughter who is active duty in the United States Army.

Lori works a part-time job to stay actively engaged in her community. She previously worked for the United States Army as a Family Readiness Program Liaison and understands the military life in its entirety. She planned memorial services for families that had lost a soldier.

In her role as a Dole Fellow, Lori hopes to mentor young caregivers and help them overcome the issues they face every single day. Lori is looking forward to working with Veteran Support Organizations and her local and state representatives to ensure military caregivers are heard and that people carry forward a message of hope for the future of our nation’s veterans and caregivers.

Lori wants to spread awareness of what life is like for caregivers who put their lives on hold to support loved ones and that the dreams these caregivers and their veterans once had are forever changed by the everlasting invisible wounds of war. Finding a new normal is stressful and frustrating, and she hopes to have the opportunity to help her family and other families see the future is bright with hope and that its ok to reach out for support.