Geri Lynn Maples, Ph.D. 2019, has been named an Elizabeth Dole Caregiver Fellow.
Elizabeth Dole Fellows are the heart and soul of the Caring for Military Families program at the Elizabeth Dole Foundation. The foundation was founded in 2012 by Senator Elizabeth Dole to raise awareness, honor, and support the 5.5 million military caregivers who care for our nation’s wounded, ill, or injured veterans. Caregivers often face a fractured, varied, and bureaucratic system poorly designed to support our nation’s wounded warriors in the home. Each year, 25 to 30 fellows are selected from all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. They are spouses, parents, or other family members who provide the care.
Senator Dole called Dr. Maples last week to congratulate her on the selection.
“Being selected as an Elizabeth Dole Fellow is a true honor,” said Maples. “I am grateful and humbled. I was very excited to speak to her. Her husband, Senator Bob Dole got on the phone too and talked to my husband Robert, an injured veteran. I feel very thankful to be part of this great organization dedicated to helping caregivers and our loved ones injured in war.”
Caregivers often don’t realize they serve this important function. Many are thrust into the role and don’t think to identify themselves as such. The Elizabeth Dole Foundation, in partnership with the Rand Corporation, is conducting extensive research that is exposing the physical and emotional effects of the duties. Their findings serve as a tool to recognize the importance of the caregiver role with their veteran.
“There is not a one-stop shop to turn to when you become a caregiver. Resources are often far and few between and vary from locale to locale,” said Maples. “For example, wounds can be either visible or invisible. Rural caregivers may be miles away from hospitals and therapy. Getting a diagnosis takes time and may involve numerous doctor visits. The injured veteran is often unable to work, causing economic hardship. The family dynamic is changed forever. The Dole Foundation is trying to collaborate, drive research, advocate, and change policy to help caregivers care for veterans. Senator Dole is a caregiver herself. She is shining a light on caregivers by telling their stories and offering a platform to work with local, state, and national leaders to make significant and cohesive change.”
Maples knows this scenario too well. Maples had to learn how to advocate for her husband starting in 2004 when her husband returned from serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“I noticed he wasn’t the same person and I was going to be in this fight by myself. My husband wasn’t going to be okay and I would have to take a leadership role to help him,” said Maples. “I have spent many days and nights in physician offices, emergency rooms, and surgical waiting rooms looking for answers. I found very few resources for traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder.”
Maples turned to higher education to help her in her quest to care for her husband. She earned a master’s degree in Human Service Counseling: Military Resilience, a degree geared toward understanding and supporting the mental, physical, social, and spiritual challenges facing veterans. She served as Military and Veterans Family Program Director with Union Institute & University and helped develop the university’s inaugural Military & Veteran Program. She chose Union for her Ph.D. Her dissertation, Surviving the Invisible Wounds of War: As Told by The Unseen Heroes raises awareness on the educational needs of military spouses, caregivers, and dependent children and is available through Barnes & Noble.
“I went back to school to learn what was happening to my husband. That information made me a better caregiver and to get him the tools he needed to function every day.”
Maples wants to help other caregivers have that same opportunity.
“The Elizabeth Dole Caregiver Fellow designation offers me a platform to speak on behalf of my fellow caregivers,” said Maples. “My goal is to educate Ohio legislators and the community on the need to offer scholarships to caregivers so that undergraduate degrees are tuition free for them, very similar to the Ohio War Orphan & Severely Disabled Veterans’ Children Scholarship Program.”
Maples currently serves as the chapter director of the Dayton, Ohio Blue Star Families, an organization founded by military spouses, dedicated to strengthening military families by connecting them with their neighbors, individuals, and organizations to create vibrant communities of mutual support. (Source: Blue Star Families)
She also founded Operation Mission Insight, a nonprofit that gives back to the community.
“What I do every day is an honor! I am blessed with the opportunity to give back to my husband, who is my hero, and my champion. Each day I watch him continue to act in bravery. No matter what amount of pain he is in, he continues to fight, starting by placing his feet on the floor each morning. This work is not about me. It is about the caregivers and military families who do so much to keep this country free.”
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