Hidden Heroes Summit: The Elizabeth Dole Foundation

Good afternoon, everyone.

Senator Dole—Elizabeth—on behalf of VA and all Veterans, thank you for helping provide caregivers a resounding and powerful voice, and thank you for helping ensure their interests are well-represented at VA as we transform.

Last Thursday evening, Elizabeth received an award from PenFed foundation—one more of the numerous honors she’s received over her decades in public service.

I was there, and I was able to spend some time with her. It was my honor to be there to see her get such a richly deserved award. No other American woman has served as much as her—Assistant to President Reagan for Public Liaison; first woman to serve as Secretary of Transportation; President of the America Red Cross; First woman to represent North Carolina in the United States Senate; Caregiver to her distinguished husband, Senator Bob Dole.

And, now, caregiver to all of you—to all of us. You couldn’t have a better advocate.

In his Second Inaugural Address, as our bloody Civil War was coming to a close, President Lincoln gave all of us a mission—he charged us to care for those “who have borne the battle” and their families.

That’s VA’s mission—a noble, sacred mission supporting the greatest clients of any agency in the country. I’m proud to be a part of it.

To all the caregivers here this afternoon, my heartfelt thanks to you. Yours is a lead role in helping fulfill that sacred mission. Your service and sacrifice—your personal courage and your deep devotion—make me especially honored to share some time with you today.

When we talk about caring for Veterans, we’re shortsighted to limit ourselves to just the Veteran and the physician. Or just the Veteran and the nurse. Or the Veteran and the physical therapist, the X-ray technician, or counselor.

Time and again when I sit with Veterans at points of care, I’m not just talking to Veterans about Veterans. I’m talking to Veterans and their spouses. Sometimes, a Veteran and a parent. Or Veterans and their sons or daughters, or grandsons or granddaughters. Sometimes, a good, dear friend of that Veteran.

Very often, sitting beside the Veteran—advising and supporting—is the caregiver, someone like you, who serves, too.

Behind the scenes, you give of your time and your love in myriad ways, whether helping with transportation to and from appointments, helping your Veteran apply for benefits, or helping with meals, bathing, clothing, medications. The spectrum of care and compassion is wide, and any attempt to define it would inevitably come up too narrow.

Your work is hard—physically and emotionally exhausting. I imagine it’s sometimes lonely, and you may feel isolated. And I know the extent of your responsibilities may sometimes feel overwhelming.

Yet, you forge ahead, tirelessly, working to help your Veteran. In short, you caregivers are living breathing examples of what it means to care for those “who have borne the battle.”

So if we’re talking about caring for Veterans, then we’re talking about caregivers. By extension, we really have to be caring for caregivers.

You have more important things to do than get lost in the World Wide Web. So we’re going from hundreds of web sites to a single portal. We expect to see that site go live for testing in the next few days. Fifty Veterans will help beta-test the navigation, fonts, and organization of the new portal. And caregivers are testing it—some of you here today have helped—so we can make sure it meets your needs.

We’re moving in a similar direction with 1-800 numbers. Right now, we have nine-hundred 1-800 numbers, and about 200 call centers.

You need to pick up the phone, make one call, get your answer, and get back to your Veteran and your family. For general access to VA, we’re going to a single 1-800 number and decreasing the number of call centers. You can still reach out to your provider in the ways you’ve found most effective. But if you don’t know exactly where to turn, you can start with just one number.

The range of VA services available to you reaches well-beyond the Caregiver Support Program. So we’re establishing a caregiver steering committee—bringing together senior officials from programs across VA that support you. Programs like respite, home and community based services, the fiduciary program, and the Caregiver Support Program. They’ll be reaching out and listening so we can make sure the programs we have are meeting your needs. We look forward to working with caregivers on this initiative in the months ahead.

At VA, our I-CARE Values are important to us—Integrity, Commitment, Advocacy, Respect, and Excellence. I can think of no group of people who better personify those high ideals than those gathered here today. And I can think of no better example of a caregiver we’d do well to emulate than Senator Elizabeth Dole.

We look forward to continuing our important work together with you and all the good people at the Dole Foundation.

Thank you. God bless you. And God bless those in your care.

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