Kathleen Causey had been married to Aaron for just 18 months when she found herself in an intensive care unit standing beside her husband’s badly injured body. 

Drastic shifts

Aaron, a Sgt. 1st Class with the U.S. Army, had sustained catastrophic wounds in an IED blast in Afghanistan. His legs were now missing. Casts covered his arms. Bandages obscured his face. They were the types of injuries that soldiers of previous generations would never have survived.

As a greater number of service members return from war with wounds like Aaron’s, hundreds of thousands of loved ones are facing caregiving challenges and hardships redefined by the nature of war.

Up close

My eyes were first opened to the challenges faced by our nation’s military and veteran caregivers when my husband Bob was hospitalized at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for 11 months.

"The researchers determined that caregivers are the single most important factor in the improvement or recovery of our wounded, yet their service comes at a severe personal price." 

During my many days around the hospital, I visited with the young spouses, mothers, fathers and other loved ones quietly looking after our wounded warriors. The strength of these caregivers was incredible, yet their faces showed they carried an emotional weight so heavy that it was hardly bearable.

Asking the questions

In 2012, I established the Elizabeth Dole Foundation to raise national awareness of our military and veteran caregiver crisis and determine how Americans can provide far better support for these hidden heroes among us. We commissioned the RAND Corporation to conduct the first nationwide, comprehensive evidence-based research on those caring for wounded, ill and injured service members and veterans. The two-year study’s results were shocking.

RAND found that 5.5 million Americans serve as military and veteran caregivers. The researchers determined that caregivers are the single most important factor in the improvement or recovery of our wounded, yet their service comes at a severe personal price. These caregivers are suffering emotionally and physically, and encountering daunting legal and financial problems while their relationships with friends and family deteriorate.

Seeing the person

Caring for anyone—military or civilian—is never easy. Sadly though, caring for one who has served in uniform means many hardships are amplified. Caregivers for those who served after the attacks of September 11, 2001 are particularly susceptible to these difficulties.

A great many are raising children. They are young—37 percent are less than 31-years-old—with less financial stability and no training in caregiving. The stress of their situation hits them harder. They are four-times more likely to suffer depression than civilian caregivers. And few organizations offer post-9/11 caregivers opportunities for relief through respite care.

Each of us, every American, can help as these patriots provide tireless care of those who cared for us. Please join the work of our Foundation to ensure they do not serve in this critical role alone.