Just weeks after my brother turned 22 while deployed to Mosul, Iraq with and Army Infantry unit, he was wounded by an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) while on a combat mission. The explosion resulted in war wounds that he is still living with today.
During James’ recovery, I quit my full-time job and became his full-time caregiver for the next nine years.
I experienced the isolation and darkness that a lot of caregivers go through in their journey. In fall of 2012, after navigating a medical emergency with my brother, I contemplated suicide. Another veteran who recognized what I was going through intervened and got me connected to Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP), and that really turned our life in a new direction.
The focus of my advocacy as a Dole Fellow and pubic speaker for WWP is to raise awareness around suicide ideation and how we can keep each other safe. I’m now blessed with the opportunity to speak publicly about that. In all the years I was feeling alone, there were thousands of other caregivers feeling the same way, and the way we heal is to help and support one another.
What I hope caregivers take away from the Hidden Heroes Caregiver Community is empowerment. Empowerment to both help themselves and then turn it around and help somebody else by paying it forward. I’m grateful for the opportunity to help shape this effort that is easing the burden for today’s military families and caregivers.
Paying it forward – that’s how you know you’re healing.
Jennifer Mackinday is an Elizabeth Dole Fellow, Wounded Warrior Project spokesperson and caregiver.