The needs are great for folks assisting wounded veterans. A new program aims to help.

Karee White speaks at Tuesday’s event highlighting the Elizabeth Dole Foundation’s Military and Veteran Caregiver Experience Map.
Karee White speaks at Tuesday’s event highlighting the Elizabeth Dole Foundation’s Military and Veteran Caregiver Experience Map. Elizabeth Dole Foundation

Karee White recalls a friend’s response when asked what it’s like to be a caregiver for an injured veteran: “In the military, you’re volunteering for service. When you’re a caregiver, you’re drafted.”

White is a caretaker for her oldest child, Kimmy White. Kimmy was a 25-year-old Army captain four years ago when she was in a car accident while deployed that left her with a traumatic brain injury.

Karee White was the main speaker Tuesday at a Durham event to highlight the Elizabeth Dole Foundation’s Military and Veteran Caregiver Experience Map. The map, created through research into “how caregiving affects caregivers” of veterans, will be used by the foundation to push forward legislation in support of veterans and their caregivers.

The first step in the Whites’ days together is waking up around 6:30 for Kimmy’s medication. Kimmy takes an assisted shower or bed bath after that and then is fed. Throughout the rest of the day, she goes through different therapies including physical and music, provided by programs such as the Wounded Warrior Project.

Kimmy is one of nine children, six of whom served in the military. Four years ago, when the Whites got the 2 a.m. call that Kimmy was in an Italian hospital in a coma, Karee became her daughter’s caretaker and her husband, Jim, became the parent to their other children still at home.

The Whites have had their share of struggles, such as losing funding for home nursing care and discovering that a VA-funded caregiver was abusing Kimmy. But the family kept working through it and is now in a “good rhythm,” White said. They now employ other caregivers for Kimmy, who is relearning to walk and can speak a few words again.

That struggle and perseverance is what Karee White, herself a veteran, wanted to get across to the room of clinicians, advocates and others at Duke University’s Penn Pavilion on Tuesday.

Nathan Naylor, VP of Veterans Healthcare for Philips, also spoke at the event and unveiled the company’s plans to provide equipment that will give veterans the ability to have a full doctor’s visit from their local VFW and/or home.

The company is donating “pods” to VFW Posts that will be fully stocked with medical checkup equipment, iPads and wi-fi connectivity so that a person can just walk in and have a doctor walk them through the steps of examining things such as their blood pressure and pulmonary function. Full-scale prototypes will be at the VFW and American Legion conventions this summer.

There also will be in-home devices, about the size of a shoebox, that will contain a handful of steps to examine yourself.

The Caregiver Experience Map was helpful in creating this product and should be used by any company that wants to help veterans, Naylor said.

“Any organization that cares about veterans could take the map and figure out ‘What can I do, what am I good at?’” he said.

After White and Naylor’s speeches, attendees participated in workshops to pool ideas that could improve the map and broaden the foundation’s understanding of what caregivers and others that support veterans need. One table focused on having access to more information on veterans’ injuries and ailments so that they can be better prepared to help.

While Veterans Affairs is still reeling from reports of opioid drug abuse and a recent report of officers abusing veterans on VA hospital grounds, many at the event were hopeful that the experience map will help shine a light on veteran caregiver issues.

“This is our opportunity to recognize our gaps and leverage what we need,” said Lisa Pape, the VA’s deputy chief officer of Patient Care Services.

Karee White does not mince her words when speaking about the VA.

“I think the VA has really given it a good attempt to work with the caregiver program, but there’s a lot of work that needs to be done,” said White. “It doesn’t answer the trials and tribulations that the caregiver goes through everyday. But I think this map is a really good first attempt at tapping into helping our caregivers.”

Related stories from Raleigh News & Observer

Trent Brown covers the Town of Cary and other odds and ends. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2019 and is a Collegiate Network fellow.