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

Melinda Smith-Pace

Don’t sweat the small stuff... Make sure you take care of yourself - if you aren't ok you can’t help anyone else.

At what moment did you realize you were a military caregiver?

When my husband got his 100 percent designation after many years of being much lower, we started researching and he signed up to get emails about wounded warrior programs. I realized as we read the documents that I was not just his wife, but also his caregiver. After over 10 years of being out of the Army, I saw us differently and realized our life had changed when he got out of the army.

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

I am looking forward to being a voice for caregivers, getting out, and letting people know all about them and their lives. We are one of the most hard working groups of people I know, yet not many people know anything about our role as a caregiver.

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

I am a stay-at-home mom instead of working as I had planned. I changed my thinking of what my life was going to be to more of what it was. I spend most of my time at doctor appointments, talking to doctors, service providers or even agencies. I also tend to do my socializing online with other women who are also caregivers instead of going out with friends.

My Story

Melinda Smith Pace of Bettendorf, Iowa is a caregiver for her husband Michael, an Army and Navy veteran. One of her biggest challenges has been adjusting to civilian life since Michael had intended to have a long career of service.

Michael was injured during a training exercise in 2005. The incident and ensuing surgery left him with a deformed foot and knee, back injuries, and major anxiety and depression. As a result of these injuries, Michael was discharged from service. Melinda had recently completed a master’s degree in public administration, and her search for employment ended abruptly when she assumed a full-time caregiver role. Since then, Melinda helps Michael with daily activities and appointments, reminds him of his daily care routines, and tends to their home and their three special needs children.

Melinda has led an active life as an advocate for children with special needs and looks forward to expanding her advocacy to the realm of military caregivers. In Quad Cities, Iowa, a designated group of four Hidden Heroes Cities, she has been helping create a space where disabled veterans can successfully work, live, and play alongside their caregivers and families.

In her new role as a Dole Fellow supporting the Iowa caregiving community, Melinda is focused on ensuring no caregiver feels alone in his or her journey. She plans to start a caregiver support group to connect caregivers with resources and enhance public awareness of the struggles that our nation’s military caregivers face every day.