A Fort Drum Family Member recently was named as New York state’s sole fellow for the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, an organization whose mission is to provide support to military and veteran caregivers.
The Elizabeth Dole Foundation recently partnered with the Wounded Warrior Project to conduct a large-scale research study in order to determine specific areas of need for military and veteran caregivers.
The findings of this study will be used to help caregivers connect with support resources avail-
able to them and will raise awareness of areas in which improvements in this support system are needed.
The organization hopes to soon have at least one fellow, who will serve as an adviser and advocate for this population, in each of the 50 states.
Serving as an advocate is not a new experience for Teresa Henning. Her husband, Staff Sgt. Michael Henning, a military policeman with the 91st Military Police Battalion, 10th Sustainment Brigade, sustained numerous injuries while deployed to Iraq in 2008.
He was medically evacuated, first to Germany and then home to Georgia, where Henning began learning the difficult process of helping a loved one through rehabilitation.
Henning had suffered a broken rib and severe nerve damage to his shoulder. In addition, he suffered a traumatic brain injury, which negatively impacted his short-term memory.
His wife recalls the first few months being especially difficult, as he learned to navigate life in a different manner.
“When he first came home, his frustration level was high,” Henning said. “He had a hard time adjusting to the fact that he couldn’t remember things.”
While continuing to work full-time as a fifth grade teacher, Henning accompanied her husband to as many of his medical appointments as she could manage. She also completed her last two semesters of graduate school in the months that followed, a goal she was determined to accomplish despite the odds against her.
“I had to be so regimented and disciplined that anything extra had to be cut out. There just wasn’t any time for it. It was just a matter of trying to keep things as balanced as I could.”
Since the extent of her husband’s injuries was not entirely clear, Henning wanted to be sure to finish her degree in the event that she needed to assume the role of sole provider for her Family.
While the challenges that a caretaker faces are much different from those faced by the veteran themselves, the role can be exhausting nonetheless, Henning said.
“The caregivers don’t have the difficulties that the wounded service members do, but they have a lot of their own struggles. They sometimes get secondary post traumatic stress disorder. Their health begins to decline, because you are too focused on taking care of your spouse to take care of yourself,” she continued.
In 2009, the couple made a permanent-change-of-station move to Fort Drum, a change that Henning said would prove to be a very positive one for her husband.
Here at Fort Drum, Michael Henning works as a training instructor for the Directorate of Emergency Services. He and his comrades are responsible for administering a rigorous three-week training course that provides incoming MPs with valuable knowledge about their job and Fort Drum’s specific standard operating procedures.
“Most of the time, my husband is fine. That’s because he’s usually tapping into his long-term memory,” Henning said. “As an instructor, he is teaching things that he’s been doing since he was 18 years old.”
Henning counts herself lucky that her husband has been able to overcome so many obstacles in the recovery process.
“Some of these wounded veterans will need assistance for the rest of their lives,” she said. “There are some caregivers whose husbands or sons or daughters cannot function anymore. They have to be there, around the clock, to provide care for them.”
This, Henning said, is where the Elizabeth Dole Foundation comes in. They are in the process of creating a coalition of organizations that will supply a myriad of support services from financial assistance, to mental health support services, to caretaker relief services that would provide much-needed time off for Family Members who provide permanent care for their loved ones.
Henning said she looks forward to meeting with state congressional representatives next month at a conference in Washington, D.C.
“My role is to be an advocate,” she said. “We have wounded service members all over the state, and it’s important that we take care of them, and those who care for them. I will be responsible for making sure that we get the word out that help is available.”