I’m not afraid to raise my voice and help people become aware.
What are you most excited to do as a Dole Caregiver Fellow?
I am excited to be an advocate. I’ve been working for people without a voice my whole life through social justice activism and this is an extension of that, but with a deeply personal connection to my veteran and my family. I want people to hear the stories of caregivers and veterans, so they don’t forget what sacrifices are made for our country.
What does being a military or veteran caregiver mean to you?
It means love; the unconditional love you give to your partner, your soulmate, your children. I’m carrying on a legacy of service to my country, just in a different way, but it’s all based in love.
How has your life changed since you became a caregiver? What sacrifices have you had to make?
Bless it, I am busy! I am juggling responsibilities and just trying to keep it together most of the time. But it’s absolutely worth every minute because I’m making a life for us, for our family, and there is nothing more precious.
In 2016, Natalie met her soulmate Tommy, who had already left active duty after 15 years of military service in the Air Force and National Guard, including multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan as a Helicopter Flight Engineer. Natalie did not know much about military life, and Tommy did not talk much about combat, particularly incidents such as his plane crashing in a combat zone and requiring a rescue mission, or the eighteen months he spent working next to a burn pit.
In addition to hearing loss and chronic pain, Tommy suffers from burn pit symptoms, including esophageal disease, and struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and depression. Though Natalie was not with Tommy during his military career, she first saw what it was like to be a veteran caregiver watching her mother, who cared for Natalie’s grandfather and uncle. After identifying Tommy’s issues, Natalie began to get help for him.
Because Natalie and Tommy are not married, she feels that she is not recognized in the caregiver community and is precluded from Tommy’s medical appointments and other resources. However, she is 100% committed to Tommy’s care and helps with scheduling appointments, making calendars and checklists, finding help, and identifying resources. Using her skills as a project manager, she has also helped Tommy find a new career path in helping veterans enter the civilian workforce. Managing her career and Tommy’s care can be difficult, Natalie shares, but she is driven by their unconditional love for one another.
Throughout her life, Natalie has been an advocate and activist for women’s rights and LGBTQ+ individuals. As a Dole Caregiver Fellow, she hopes to be a voice for non-traditional caregivers—partners, friends, and other non-family members—who are committed to providing the best care possible for the people they love.