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

Nancy Kules

One of our family mottos is ‘Everyday You Choose.’ When we fail to be the best versions of ourselves, there’s always a fresh start.

What is one piece of advice you would offer to other military and veteran caregivers?

When you are dealing with a life altering injury, the truth is you will never “come out the other side” or have “made the best” of the situation. You must constantly be making the best of your situation. It’s daily. It’s not over, and it never will be. In order to be successful in a new normal, you have to constantly be deciding to be as productive, happy, and capable as you can be. In order to sustain the type of energy this reality requires, it’s important to learn how to prioritize yourself and align yourself with a community of like minded people to support you.

What does being a military caregiver mean to you?

For me, being a military Caregiver is twofold: being available to address needs as they arise, and having the responsibility to maintain our family’s normalcy by finding opportunities for our family that highlight the things we can do, vs. what we cannot. Oftentimes, people looking in have a hard time understanding how much energy it takes to sustain our new normal. People comment, they “forget Ryan is injured.” This comment is equal parts the highest compliment and the biggest pause for thought. We work so hard to be a typical young family, but is the effort that goes into our unique everyday forgotten?

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

Ryan was injured before we had children so it’s nearly impossible to compare life before with life now… kids change everything! There are certainly sacrifices our family has made because of Ryan’s injuries, but by and large, we have managed to make lemonade out of lemons. We are incredibly thankful for the community of people we have met post injury that have supported us throughout this journey. We love our family, friends, and community for being part of our “now”, and for riding this (albeit bumpy) ride of life with us.

My Story

Nancy Kules of Severna Park, Maryland is a caregiver to her husband Ryan, an Army veteran who was medically retired after four years of service. In 2005, Ryan suffered catastrophic injuries while serving in Iraq which resulted in the amputation of his left leg and right arm, and a traumatic brain injury (TBI). At age 22, Nancy left her job as a kindergarten teacher in Arizona, and flew to Germany to be by Ryan’s side. Currently, Nancy helps Ryan with everyday activities such as grooming and cooking, but considers her less tangible role proactively advocating for Ryan’s overall success to be one of the most challenging aspects of her caregiving role. As both a caregiver and mother of three, Nancy also recognizes her struggle prioritizing her own self-care.

Nancy values the skills she gained as a classroom teacher, and considers herself a lifelong learner. She is a natural leader, generous, and highly capable of sharing her knowledge with others. Nancy enjoys taking on roles that directly influence her family. As such, she prioritizes her volunteerism to focus on her neighborhood, local schools, youth organizations, environmental agencies, and on behalf of veterans. In their free time, Nancy and her family enjoy traveling and spending time outdoors boating, crabbing, and hunting in Maryland.

As a Dole Caregiver Fellow, Nancy’s goal is to increase awareness of mental health challenges and treatments, and to advocate for streamlined care through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), especially regarding convenient personalized mental health services for ongoing and crisis care.