Hidden Helpers: America’s Military Kids

with Liz Rotenberry of the Elizabeth Dole Foundation

Children who live with, and provide care for, wounded, injured, or ill service members or veterans can face severe impacts to their mental health.

Liz Rotenberry of the Dole Caregiver Fellows program at the Elizabeth Dole Foundation joins host Tetiana Anderson to discuss a campaign to provide a deeper understanding of the personal experiences and needs of military caregivers and their families.

Posted on:

Oct 31, 2022

Hosted by: Tetiana Anderson
Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Anderson: There are an estimated 5.5 million military caregivers in the U.S. today. Caregivers, often family and friends of veterans, are hidden heroes, caring for America's wounded, ill, or injured veterans. Caregiving is often a family affair, with children, hidden helpers, shouldering some of the responsibility. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. The physical and emotional effects of war are not only affecting the servicemembers and veterans, but the families who care for them are impacted, as well. The issue is perhaps best summarized by this quote, taken from an essay in The New York Times Magazine. The author of that essay joins me today. Liz Rotenberry is a military caregiver. She manages the Dole Caregiver Fellows Program at the Elizabeth Dole Foundation. And, Liz, welcome to you.

Rotenberry: Thank you very much for having me.

Anderson: So what are some of these issues that these hidden helpers are dealing with?

Rotenberry: So, the Elizabeth Dole Foundation identified the impacts on hidden heroes, our military veteran caregivers, with an initial RAND Report study. That evidence-based study identified the impacts on these caregivers being mental, emotional, physical. But at the same time, in that study, caregivers reported the impacts also on the family, the children in the home. And as I am a caregiver to my husband -- we have four children -- I can tell you specifically that they experience all the same things that we identified in that RAND report. We were fortunate to have our Mathematica -- team up with Mathematica, as well as the Wounded Warrior Project, to identify key areas that needed improvement. And, yes, mental health was one of the biggest areas -- depression, stress, anxiety. All of those things weigh on our children.

Anderson: Obviously, being a caregiver is a huge responsibility for anyone. But what are the specific impacts to children?

Rotenberry: Children in our military homes are facing such severe impacts to their mental health and their mental well-being, their emotional well-being, so much so that suicide is such a struggle for these kids. It's an ideation. It's an attempt sometimes in our homes. And so what can we do as a society to better understand these children, better understand what's happening in these homes? School systems are with our children a majority of the time. What are they doing to identify the impacts of these kids? And so I think that, you know, we really need to raise awareness that this is severe. This goes as far as suicide.

Anderson: So the Hidden Helpers program is fed by a national coalition of supporters. Who are some of those supporters, and how are they supporting?

Rotenberry: So our coalition is made up of over 60-plus members. Every area from our education to our medical and physicians. We have partners, we have organizations involved. Many of them just want to be there to better the resources and programs that they're providing already to military and veteran families, but now to increase that care, increase that resource opportunity for our children.

Anderson: What about the Dole Caregiver Fellows program itself, which of course you manage? What does it offer?

Rotenberry: So, our Dole Caregiver Fellows program is made up of, right now, 254 fellows that represent our foundation all across this nation. They are volunteers, they are all eras, all relationships, all injury wounds and illnesses that care for our military and veteran caregivers. Some of them are, like I said, all relationships, which is really key. Some are parents, some are siblings, some are children, some are just friends. And we really need to do a better job of bringing that awareness and helping caregivers to self-identify. So our fellows who work with us directly serve as liaisons on the ground. They're sort of our boots on the ground that not only work with the cities or different organizations or different avenues to help raise that awareness, get caregivers to self-identify, and get those families connected to resources and programs.

Anderson: And what about you? I mean, you're caring for your husband, your help sort of leading efforts to help other people care for their loved ones. What have you learned along the way about balance that other people can learn from you?

Rotenberry: It is challenging. You know, your caregiving role is 24/7. It's not like an 8:00 to 5:00 job. And there comes with it many ups and downs, especially when you look at our mental-health illnesses that add into it -- the PTS, the TBIs -- that really are unpredictable day to day. And I try to find time for myself, whether it's going for a walk or reaching out to peers. I think the biggest thing to do is to really find your system, find your family or your community that you can belong to, that you can have those moments with, those moments of breakdowns, those moments of celebrations. It's a little bit of everything that comes into play. I know that we offer, through our Hidden Heroes Caregiver Community, peer-to-peer support. And again, finding that balance of having that community, people who understand you and what you're going through, is really key.

Anderson: So, people are certainly going to want to know more. Is there a website they can go to for more information?

Rotenberry: Absolutely. We have many services for our military and veteran caregivers. They can go to hiddenheroes.org, and we have respite relief, we have Hope Fund, financial aid. We've got more information on our Hidden Helpers initiative. The executive summary and the report are also on there so they can learn more about what these impacts are on these children.

Anderson: Liz Rotenberry, thank you so much for being here.

Rotenberry: Thank you.

Anderson: And thanks to our viewers, as well, for watching. As always, for more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the nation, visit comcastnewsmakers.com. I'm Tetiana Anderson.

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