Elizabeth Dole Foundation Event

We had the honor of recently attending the Elizabeth Dole Foundation Heroes & History Makers Celebration, the ten-year anniversary of the foundation.  Diane and I sat at the head table with Senator Dole, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley, USAA CEO Wayne and Ginney Peacock, Hilton EVP Danny and Sharon Hughes, Randolph Reynolds, and 2014 Dole Caregiver Fellow Jessica Allen.  I sat between Mark and Diane, and Elizabeth sat next to Mark.

When I went to D.C. to be a member of President Obama’s Cabinet, 1974 West Point graduate Marty Dempsey was the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  I worked closely with Marty on eradicating Ebola before it got to the U. S.  After retirement Marty went to Duke, where he taught leadership.  Marty was selected as a Distinguished Graduate the same year I was and is a good friend.  I then had a role in onboarding Marty’s successors.  Next was Marine Corps General Joe Dunford.  Diane and I liked Joe and his wife.  They hosted wonderful Christmas parties at their home at Fort McNair each year.  Joe was then followed by Mark Milley, and I played a role in onboarding him.  Mark is an ROTC graduate of Princeton.  The last time I had seen Mark was when we had dinner together the night before the Army – Navy game.  I’ve always liked him and appreciated the political wickets he had to navigate.

Elizabeth Dole, Samantha Guthrie

Diane and I enjoyed seeing Senator Dole and honoring her service to military caregivers.  We have about 19 million Veterans in the U.S., and we have over 5.5 million full-time caregivers for those Veterans.  This situation is a “canary in the coalmine” for the U. S. population at large.  When I took over the VA there was a crisis of care because of the aging Veteran population.  When I graduated from West Point in 1975, there were 2 million Veterans over the age of 65.  Today there are over 10 million Veterans over the age of 65, five times more.  This is the trend the VA missed that caused the crisis of access before I was made Secretary.  This is also what led to the caregiving crisis, which Senator Dole and I perceived and worked to alleviate.  We created programs funded by the government to assist caregivers, read that the entire military family.  The point is when a servicemember raises their hand to serve, the entire family serves, especially when the servicemember is wounded.  Those service-connected wounds get more acute as the Veteran ages.  Given the aging of the American population, caregiving is now a big issue for the general population.

Elizabeth Dole Tom Hanks

Tom Hanks, who chairs the Hidden Heroes program for the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, MCed the event.  He was very funny.  Senator Dole and her CEO Steve Schwartz spoke.  Savannah Guthrie of the NBC Morning Show received the annual Caregiver Champion Award for the attention she has drawn to the need to support caregivers.  After she got the award, she came over to our table to thank Senator Dole.  Multi-platinum country music singer Chris Young performed.  My favorite may have been the 82nd Airborne Division Chorus, who were fantastic.  Chairman Milley and I started our careers with the 82nd, so when they asked for a picture with the Chairman, he insisted I be in it too.

82nd Div Chorus

Diane and I had the opportunity to see many friends we served with in VA—Scott Blackburn, Sharef Elnahal (current Under Secretary for Health), Mark Erwin, Dr. Caitland Thompson (who ran our suicide prevention program), Matt Collier, Matt Stiner, and Rashi (who now works for the Elizabeth Dole Foundation). and many more.  It was a wonderful evening.

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