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Former Sen. Elizabeth Dole visits Pittsburgh VA to support military caregivers

Sen. Elizabeth Dole speaks with reporter Lisa Sylvester of WPXI-TV at the Pittsburgh VA. Dole visited to promote the Hidden Heroes program on Friday, Sept. 15, 2017.

ANDREW RUSSELL/THE PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW (TNS)

By BOB BAUDER | The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (Tribune News Service) | Published: September 16, 2017

Holly Monahan considers it a blessing to provide 24-hour care for her son who returned from a U.S. Army deployment in Afghanistan five years ago with mental health issues.

She spent six months in Syracuse, N.Y., while Sean Monahan, 29, was being treated in a VA hospital and has since shared caretaking duties with her husband, Pat, and another son. That care requires weekly visits to VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System's hospital in Oakland.

Monahan, 57, of Unity said her situation would be impossible without a caregiver support program provided by VA Pittsburgh.

“Honestly this caregiver program is a gift to me, because without it I don't know how I would get through it, and I don't think without the care Sean's getting here he'd be alive.”

Monahan was joined Friday by other caregivers and former U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole at the Oakland VA hospital to raise awareness about the plight of those who provide care for loved ones injured in the military.

Dole, 81, who served in the presidential administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, founded the Hidden Heroes Campaign chaired by actor Tom Hanks. The campaign, which Dole's foundation supports, identifies caregivers and steers them to support programs such those provided by the VA.

Dole said about 5.5 million people across the United States are caring for injured veterans. About 20 percent of them are caring for loved ones injured since Sept. 11, 2001.

Many are young with little experience in medical and mental health issues and no support. They struggle alone while managing children, households, finances and legal and insurance red tape, Dole said.

“They are doing enormous amounts of work,” Dole said. “For some it's almost 24 hours a day, and America has no idea what's happening in these military homes today. They don't identify as a caregiver. They think I'm just the mother taking care of my son. If they could raise their hands as a caregiver there are resources that we're making available to caregivers of the military.”

Hidden Heroes, through its website hiddenheroes.org, connects caregivers with others who share similar experiences and 200 closely vetted organizations that can provide them with support.

Pittsburgh is one of 105 Hidden Heroes cities across the country. The Hidden Heroes Cities program reported in 2017 it awarded $500,000 to 14 nonprofits seeking to help military caregivers and their families.

Mayor Bill Peduto has agreed to work with Allegheny County to identify military caregivers and connect them with programs that can help.

“It is a call to action for all agencies to coordinate efforts to be able to make it easier for those that need this assistance,” the mayor said. “On a city and county level, and on a federal level, the amount of red tape that usually is required will be minimized.”

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©2017 The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (Greensburg, Pa.)
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