Veteran caregivers are hidden heroes

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Grand Rapids could not be prouder of the brave men and women in our community who have served our nation, and we are committed to providing our veterans with the support needed to not only return to civilian life, but to live fulfilling, meaningful lives right here in our city.

In October, we were proud to open the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans to provide long- and short-term care for veterans. This is a historic milestone for Grand Rapids that was six years in the making.

Another critical way that Grand Rapids is committed to bettering the lives of its veteran community is by improving veterans’ care in their own homes. Working alongside the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, our city is part of a growing list of municipalities joining the Hidden Heroes Cities and Counties program to support and uplift veteran caregivers, and we are proud today to recognize the Elizabeth Dole Foundation’s most recent initiative, the “I Am A Caregiver” campaign.

Military caregivers are the spouses, parents, siblings, children, or friends that put their own lives aside to provide daily care for a beloved servicemember at home. Michigan is home to more than 575,000 veterans, and many have returned from the different eras of war, including the war in Afghanistan, with battle scars — both visible and invisible. And veteran caregivers have been there every step of the way, working purely out of love and devotion to provide daily emotional and physical support. This comes in the form of managing prescriptions and doctor’s appointments, advocating for proper care, navigating trauma, assisting with disabling wounds and injuries, and more.

There is no doubt that being a caregiver is a necessary and heroic job. On top of that, it also can be isolating, overwhelming, exhausting and all-consuming. Unsurprisingly, this often leads to mental and personal health challenges for caregivers. And as community members, it is our duty to ensure veteran caregivers feel supported and know that they are not alone in this journey. After all, improving a caregiver’s experience and empowering them will only lead to a healthier, happier veteran and community at large.

Through the I Am A Caregiver campaign, it is our goal to empower these crucial caregivers and members of our community to self-identify and help them access the resources and support system that is available to them. Since her husband, Sen. Bob Dole, was hospitalized at Walter Reed Medical Center in 2011, Sen. Elizabeth Dole has been a champion for military caregivers, bringing together caregivers, advocates, Veterans Affairs personnel, and more to break down communications barriers, share best practices, and educate community leaders, policymakers, businesses and individuals on the issues military caregivers face. We all must continue doing our part to increase awareness and support for our veterans and their caregivers. 

I hope that the hidden heroes across our state will hear our calls to feel empowered and join our support network to help navigate a post-service life. Veterans returning home, their families, and their caregivers all have made great sacrifices for our country, and they all need to be recognized and supported. Please join me in this effort at hiddenheroes.org

Rosalynn Bliss is the mayor of Grand Rapids.

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