WASHINGTON — When Hal Dumas returned from deployment to Iraq, the signs of post-traumatic stress disorder were not immediately evident. And as they appeared, his wife, Kristi, felt isolated and helpless as she moved into a caregiver role.
It was hard to get needed support, she said, especially because she didn't really realize there were millions of other military caregivers who'd been thrust into the role without resources to know how to manage it.
"When you're out at the mall, people don't know you're constantly keeping an eye out for triggers like loud noises or large crowds," she said. "At the grocery store, the store clerk can't see the way you're watching for early warning signs exhibited by a veteran that only you can recognize."
Dumas is among approximately 5.5 million caregivers for active duty troops and veterans. Many don't label themselves as caregivers, which makes it all the more difficult to ask for support.
On Tuesday, former North Carolina Sen. Elizabeth Dole and actor Tom Hanks launched Hidden Heroes, a campaign to raise awareness for caregivers sponsored by the Elizabeth Dole Foundation. In addition to Hanks, journalist Tom Brokaw and political leaders ranging from House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi,D-Calif., to Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald spoke to a group of military caregivers from around the country.
"We are now also ready to ask: What can we do to help you next?" Hanks said. "You’re no longer hidden, you’re certainly not alone. America is ready to serve along with you every single day."
The campaign, which has received two million-dollar donations from billionaire philanthropist Jennifer Pritzker, a retired Army lieutenant colone, and the United Arab Emirates government, unveiled a website that provides lists of resources and a community forum for caregivers, and a list of 54 cities that have signed on to promote its mission. In addition, a video featuring Hanks and a caregiver with her family will begin airing across the country through a partnership with Comcast NBCUniversal.
At the event, McDonald announced new VA initiatives by the VA, including extending its Coursera benefit — which allows veterans to take free courses online — to caregivers and qualifying Lyft and Uber ride-sharing programs under the VA’s beneficiary travel program.
"Partnership and collaboration are absolutely fundamental for serving veterans," McDonald said.
The VA and Elizabeth Dole Foundation will collaborate with other non-profits and caregivers on Wednesday at an all-day forum on military and veterans caregivers.
McDonald hinted he would be announcing a collaboration with Amazon to help affected family members.