The first week of February, 2016, the Department of Veterans Affairs held a national summit to address suicide among veterans and military caregivers. Among the numerous organizations and individuals invited to speak at the summit was former Senator (R-NC) and chairwoman of the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, Elizabeth Dole.
In her speech, Dole discussed how military caregivers, "...are often unrecognized for their critical role as the first line of defense to veteran suicide. All too often, the overwhelming stress and emotional toll it takes to care for a loved one - especially one who wishes to take their own life - is overlooked."
Dole went on to discuss how caregivers serve as the "first line of defense" in preventing veteran suicide. Caregivers must always be on alert for potential triggers for mood swings, anxiety attacks, rage outbursts, or suicidal episodes.
However, despite providing comprehensive physical and emotional support to veterans, most military caregivers are not professional healthcare providers or social workers, and many must perform their duites in isolation.
According to Dole, "[f]ew Americans understand what it is like to serve in uniform. Even fewer can relate to the lives of military and veteran caregivers. More than 50 percent of post-9/11 caregivers report that they do not have a support network to help with their caregiving." Additionally, Dole discussed how, over time, the sense of hopelessness felt by many veterans can transfer to their caregivers as well.
Dole ended her speech by outlining a plan for helping provide additional support to military caregivers. The first step in her plan involves identifying the men and women serving as caregivers and educating them on the importance of identifying themselves as such. Next, after identifying these caregivers, they must be connected with a support network. Additionally, the emotional load carried by caregivers must be reduced by better preparing caregivers to serve in that capacity. Dole also believes that mental health and respite resources must be identified and share with caregivers to help ease the burden they bear on a daily basis.