Program recognizes sacrifice of military caregivers
Posted November 11, 2016
More than 5.5 million people are military caregivers, and many of them are facing unique challenges.
A new effort is working to connect those caregivers with the help they need to continue caring for returning service members.
The past few years have been tough on the Sweeneys in Raleigh.
"In 2013, I was diagnosed with bladder cancer," said Brian Sweeney, a Marine Corp veteran who served in the Vietnam War.
He and his wife, Charlotte, also spent time at Camp Lejeune, where they might have been exposed to contaminated drinking water. Because of that, Veterans Affairs has been treating Sweeney's cancer.
And Charlotte Sweeney, who is a physician, adjusted to becoming her husband's caregiver.
"It was hard for me as a professional to say, 'I need help with this situation,' because I spent my life helping everybody else," Charlotte Sweeney said.
The new effort to help caregivers like Charlotte Sweeney is called Hidden Heroes.
The Elizabeth Dole Foundation commissioned the project to raise awareness about military caregivers.
Hidden Heroes launched in September, and it's trying to provide a support network for the people who take care of our veterans.
"To connect caregivers locally in our community so we can get together and support one another," Charlotte Sweeney said. "Institutional support is great, but we need the heart-to-heart, one-to-one."
Brian Sweeney is in good health right now. Now, Charlotte Sweeney says she's focused on making sure veterans get what they're owed.
"It's about our community," Charlotte Sweeney said. 'There are folks who paid the price, and it's up to us to care for them."
Brian Sweeney agreed: that kind of help is necessary.
"When you're disabled in some way," he said, "you need that other voice speaking for you."
NBC is supporting the Hidden Heroes campaign.
If you're a caregiver looking for help, or if you want to help support them, visit the Hidden Heroes website.