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

Melissa Jackson

Celebrate the small victories. Find a moment of joy every day. Tell your care recipient how important they are to you!

What does being a military caregiver mean to you?

Being an advocate and, when needed, being the voice of my husband’s (and previously my dad’s) needs. It means unconditional love and accepting the changes in my relationships with my husband and my dad.

Tell us about your other job, in addition to being a caregiver.

As the CEO of the Vermont Veterans Home, I am responsible for 138 veterans, their spouses or widows, and Gold Star Parents. I’m lucky that my employer is very flexible with taking time off to care for my dad and my husband.

What are the most significant lessons you have learned from being a caregiver?

Try to find the good in every moment. With my dad, he helped me realized that everyone’s idea of quality of life is different and should be determined by the individual, not just the medical providers.

With my husband, it is trying to deal with his anger that presents when he is in pain, and remembering he is mad at the pain and not me.

My Story

Melissa's husband, Tom, served as a submariner for 21 years. He has severe back pain related to herniated and bulging discs. He is unable to stand for long periods of time and at times can barely walk or get out of bed. He tries to live as normal of a life as possible, but becomes easily frustrated when he needs help from Melissa or their children to complete tasks he used to do alone. Melissa's dad, Harry, was a Vietnam Navy veteran who had Lou Gehrig’s Disease (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS) for 10 years before he died. As the disease progressed, he lost his ability to move and needed a ventilator to breathe and a feeding tube to eat. He always found the joy in his life, especially his grandkids, no matter how much pain he was in.

In her role as a Dole Caregiver Fellow, Melissa hopes to shed more light on the various caregiver support services outside of the VA. She also hopes to provide information and education on non-pharmalogical interventions for pain.