Care For Those Who Give It

Veterans

Let’s make franchising a champion for military care providers.

By Senator Elizabeth Dole

For too long, America has overlooked the services and sacrifices of those caring for wounded, ill or injured veterans at home. These 5.5 million military and veteran caregivers — spouses, parents and other loved ones — are in almost every community in America. They probably live in your neighborhood, and they are hardworking professionals (nurses, lawyers, college professors and franchisees) contributing to America’s diverse economy. But too often, military caregivers find themselves in a new and unexpected profession as a caregiver without any formal training or preparation for the challenges that lie ahead. In fact, in their roles as caregivers, these hidden heroes provide an estimated $14 billion in uncompensated care annually.

Hidden Heroes

When my husband, Bob, was hospitalized at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for an extended period of time about seven years ago, I came to know many young families who had overturned their lives to care for wounded, ill and injured loved ones returning from war. Among them, I met Jessica Allen, a young mother and financial counselor from McMinnville, TN. Jessica traveled for months between Tennessee and Maryland to support her two young daughters and her small business while caring for her husband, Chaz, an Army veteran who suffered a double leg amputation. Although my own caregiving journey was markedly different, I identified with the challenges faced by Jessica and dozens of other spouses, mothers, dads, siblings and friends like her who each had devoted their lives to caring for an injured veteran.

Following Bob’s hospitalization, I established the Elizabeth Dole Foundation to raise awareness for military and veteran caregivers, and to find solutions for their unique needs. Working with the RAND Corporation, we confirmed a theory I developed while walking the halls of Walter Reed with Jessica and her peers: a well-supported caregiver is the single most important factor in a wounded warrior’s recovery.  Furthermore, the 5.5 million military caregivers across the nation are at greater risk for depression and heart disease due to their caregiving role and social isolation, often struggle to balance family responsibilities and caregiving duties, and have unique needs when it comes to financial and legal planning, respite and employment.

In 2016, the Foundation launched Hidden Heroes, a multi-channel awareness and support campaign by caregivers for caregivers with the help of my friend, Hidden Heroes Campaign Chair Tom Hanks. Hidden Heroes includes an online community and resource hub for caregivers at hiddenheroes.org, a grassroots community engagement program called Hidden Heroes Cities that now includes 130 cities nationwide, and a coalition of more than 300 organizations committed to supporting military and veteran caregivers.

In 2018, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the Elizabeth Dole Foundation launched an interactive Military and Veteran Caregiver Experience Map (caregiverjourney.org). Two years in the making, the Caregiver Experience Map incorporates input from hundreds of government, industry, faith, healthcare and nonprofit stakeholders, mapping out key points of interaction and the milestones where the right organizations and service providers can step in to support hidden heroes at every stage of their journey.

A Hidden Gem of the Workforce

Through RAND’s research and our development of the Caregiver Experience Map, a clear picture of caregiver needs came into focus. Too many hidden heroes are struggling to balance family responsibilities, employment, their own health and wellbeing, and caring for a loved one. This struggle becomes especially pronounced when it comes to employment. On average, more than half of all caregivers experience financial strain due to caregiving, and for many, this is a result of lost income and wages. The immense responsibility and time commitment required to care for a loved one means that traditional 9-to-5 employment is unsustainable for an untold number of caregivers. Melissa Johnson from Aberdeen, SD, taught elementary school for 15 years and had to quit her job to care for her husband Sean, an Army Veteran who struggles with blindness and PTSD. At times, Melissa worked as a waitress to make ends meet before finding a job with a military family service organization that allows her to work from home with more flexible hours.

Caregivers like Melissa and Jessica have tremendously valuable skills. As trained professionals in education and financial counseling, they established themselves in their fields and in their communities. Then, they retrained as caregivers, learning on the fly how to dress wounds, administer medications, monitor for emotional triggers, advocate for their loved ones as patients and more — and they are not alone. Military and veteran caregivers nationwide just like Melissa and Jessica have skills that are valuable, marketable and vital to recognize. Our hidden heroes are truly hidden gems of the workforce.

Franchising and Military Caregivers

Our partnership with the franchise community began on a sunny Washington afternoon in September of last year, when our team shared a lunch with IFA’s VetFran staff and talked about what our two communities could achieve if we worked together. Since then, IFA has assembled a coalition of nearly 20 home care franchise companies representing more than 4,000 franchised locations. This coalition, which first convened in February at the IFA Annual Convention in Las Vegas, has come together around key shared recognitions: that military caregivers are a hidden workforce gem for home care franchises; that home care franchises possess valuable knowhow that could help caregivers adjust to their new responsibilities; and that building a bridge between the military caregiver and franchise communities is both the right thing to do and the sensible thing to do.

The coalition is growing by the month, and with the help of IFA staff, is finalizing plans to launch a new VetFran initiative this fall. The franchise community will build a pipeline of employment and entrepreneurial talent, connecting caregivers with career opportunities in franchising, and educating them about utilizing the skills they are developing at home in the modern workforce. At the same time, this community will find creative ways to give back to military caregivers by building out a library of resources and training insights, and perhaps even mentorship and education events in 2020 and beyond. The franchise community’s commitment to veterans has a long history, and we are excited that extending that commitment to military caregivers is becoming a new chapter in that story.

Work with military caregivers has been more than a philanthropic and professional endeavor for me. It has been a calling, and I know that through the VetFran program as well as your own corporate and personal endeavors, giving back to veterans is also a calling for so many of you in the franchise community. I am thrilled by the work already underway with the IFA and I would like to call on you as franchisors, franchisees and employers generally to recognize the unique value of military caregivers and work together with the Elizabeth Dole Foundation and the IFA Foundation’s VetFran program to craft meaningful opportunities for our hidden heroes.

Elizabeth Dole is a former U.S. Senator from North Carolina, a former Secretary of Labor and Transportation, she served as President of the American Red Cross and is Founder and President of the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, the preeminent organization empowering and supporting military and veteran caregivers.