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

Stephanie Ruepp

You don’t have to do this by yourself. Help is always out there, you just have to ask for it.

What misconception about military caregivers do you want to set straight?

Most people say, “You signed up for this, you knew what you were getting into.” No, I married my husband, we were both active duty Air Force, and I knew there was a possibility that one or both of us would end up with some sort of disability. I did not know what that would be or how to care for him or myself when and if that day came. Now it’s here and it comes with various challenges that we face together.

What piece of advice has helped you that you want to share with other military caregivers?

Being thrown into a caregiver role puts you behind the curve before you even get started. Take things one day at a time and when you feel like giving up, pray.

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

I can’t always focus on myself, but I need to pay attention to what my body is telling me. I’m so busy taking care of everyone else that when I don’t feel well, it takes a huge toll on me to power through and make sure everyone gets what they need.

My Story

Stephanie Ruepp is a caregiver for her husband Donny. He was an Aerospace Ground Equipment Mechanic/Section Leader, Quality Assurance Inspector, and a First Sergeant for the last nine years of his 23-year career. He has a traumatic brain injury (TBI), post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), numerous severe spinal injuries, a torn bicep/rotator cuff and shoulder impingement, anxiety, and severe depression to name a few of his injuries and “invisible wounds” that began to slowly get worse. Donny is now wheelchair and bed bound with a service dog to help with his mobility issues.

Stephanie and Donny received assistance from the local Wounded Warrior case manager and VA for house and vehicle modifications, but the biggest help Stephanie has received as a caregiver has come from her mother-in-law, Joan. She has been a Godsend to them, she shares. Joan is retired Department of Defense Civil Service and has a flexible schedule to be able to take care of Donny during the day. Stephanie takes over caregiver duties in the afternoon/evening and on weekends. As a Dole Caregiver Fellow, she would like to help caregivers receive more education on pharmaceuticals.