"Hidden Heroes": Soldiers' Caregivers - New York News

"Hidden Heroes": Soldiers' Caregivers

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The painful return of soldiers from wars around the world is well documented. Many will struggle with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, depression and bouts with alcohol abuse. These are the scars of war. But what about those who care for these soldiers struggling to assimilate back into civilian life? Who helps them? Enter former Senator Elizabeth Dole.

Mrs.Dole, of course, is married to former Senator Bob Dole. Her husband is a World War Two Hero. Several years ago when her husband was being treated at Walter Reed Army Hospital she spent months around the families of soldiers. What she discovered was heartbreaking. Nearly all of the responsibility of caring for the "wounded warrior" fell on the young spouses. Often they were overwhelmed by the crush of hours, expense and worry of caring for their loved family member. They had little money, little sleep and felt alone in their struggle to keep their families together.

Mr. and Mrs. Dole befriended the young families. And in a poignant account, she told me the Dole's invited these army families to their small Washington apartment for a party. They made room by pitching a tent in the backyard  to accommodate the many deserving families. Later, they took the soldiers, their wives and kids to see the Washington D.C. monuments. Most had never seen them!  It was a special evening. And she vowed to do more for the caregivers of soldiers.

And it was a promise kept. The announcement was made earlier this month at the gala of Public Counsel.  Mrs. Dole was honored for her work on behalf of military families. Through a collaboration between several organizations, including The Elizabeth Dole Foundation and Public Counsel -- caregivers of soldiers will receive help. There is huge financial strain and emotional strain on these families. Legal assistance can be invaluable. This collaboration will be a great resource.

I also had the opportunity to meet Thomas and Candace Woods at the gala. Their story was chronicled in a recent LA Times feature story. Thomas suffered great psychological pain as he tried to assimilate back into civilian life after serving a tour of duty in Iraq. The man Candace had married was hard to recognize.  Instead this young soldier's wife was met by a man dealing with depression, anger and flashbacks to war. He drowned his troubles in a bottle. And was sometimes violent. After 3 D-U-I's -- he went into treatment. He left the facility in May and he and Candace are rebuilding their life. 

On this September evening, the family was introduced to Mrs. Dole who is Candace's hero.  There were pictures, hugs and warm words. I asked Candace how she felt about the efforts of Mrs.Dole and Public Counsel. She said " Last year it would have helped me so much. A place to get advice, access to resources-- just to get the weight off my shoulders. I felt so alone..."

I hope to update the Woods Family as they put their lives back together. Wounded Warriors and their Hidden Heroes we owe them a debt of gratitude.   

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