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

Sharon Grassi

Our jobs can be varied and complex or well-defined and specific, depending on the needs of our Veteran.

Can you describe a milestone or a moment that made you feel empowered or inspired as a caregiver?

Every now and then, out of the blue, Derek will say, “Mom, other guys aren’t as lucky as I am. I don’t know where I would be without your help.”

How do you find strength in the difficulty of your day-to-day?

I remind myself of what Derek has been through, his strength, his ability to help others when he is the one who needs help. And, some days, my strength comes from anger at the bureaucracy that I have to deal with and the realization that veterans without caregivers or advocates are struggling with more than they can handle.

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

I’ve learned to build a team of people I can count on for support. My support team comes from family, friends, VA staff and providers, community medical providers, other caregivers, Veteran’s organizations, and anyone who shows me that they are willing to do more than talk about helping me.

My Story

Sharon is the caregiver for her son Derek, a combat medic who preferred combat missions to aid-station work. At home, she and her family prayed for his safety and their prayers were answered; he walked away from multiple explosions. In 2008, Derek was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), then deployed to Iraq for a second time, and walked away from a few more explosions. After four years and two deployments, he exited the Army. Nine months later, he re-enlisted as an infantryman (medic qualified).

After Derek's third deployment, he attempted suicide after landing in a military brig. None of his actions were normal, but it took two years — working with Congressmen, Senators, and organizations like the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center — for the Army to address his injuries. In 2014, the National Intrepid Center of Excellence (NICoE) and Walter Reed National Military Medical Center confirmed damage to his spine, chronic PTSD, post-concussion syndrome, sleep apnea, and more. Sharon left her career to help her son. Now, as a Dole Caregiver Fellow, she has the opportunity to advocate for appropriate active-duty medical and mental health diagnosis, treatment, and transitional communication.