Senator Collins Chairs Aging Committee Hearing on Military Caregivers

At Senator Collins’ Invitation, Maine Veteran and Veteran Caregiver, Joe and Melanie Swoboda, Testified

Click HERE for Senator Collins’ opening statement
Click HERE to watch Senator Collins’ opening statement
Click HERE to watch the Swobodas’ testimony
Click HERE for b-roll of Senator Collins meeting the Swobodas

Washington, D.C. - Today, U.S. Senator Susan Collins, the Chairman of the Senate Aging Committee, held a hearing focused on military caregivers, which featured experts, advocates, and veterans and their caregivers. In addition to bringing awareness to the challenges faced by military caregivers, the Committee unveiled a RAND Corporation report commissioned by the Elizabeth Dole Foundation on a blueprint to aid military caregivers going forward.

Military caregivers are individuals who provide informal care on a routine basis to veterans in need of regular assistance. There are more than 5.5 million military and veteran caregivers in the United States. These spouses, parents, friends and other loved ones transform their lives to provide daily, essential care for those who have protected and served our nation.

At Senator Collins’ invitation, retired Sergeant First Class Joseph Swoboda, and his wife and caregiver, Melanie, of Levant, Maine, testified about the difficulties faced by military caregivers and the essential support they need. A three-time combat veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Swoboda medically retired from the military in 2013.

“Military caregivers—America’s heroes in plain clothes—enable veterans living with visible and invisible injuries to recover and remain involved with their communities. I am so impressed by the sacrifices Melanie and Joe have made, and their testimony today enhanced Congress’ understanding of the difficulties faced by military caregivers and their needs going forward.” said Senator Collins. “In order to better serve our nation’s caregivers, I introduced the RAISE Family Caregivers Act and cosponsored the Military and Veteran Caregiver Services Improvement Act, and I look forward to seeing these bills signed into law. We must never forget our military caregivers, and we should do all that we can to support them.”

Melanie Swoboda, a Dole Foundation Fellow, testified about her experience being a military caregiver, noting her husband’s struggles upon retirement, “I knew he was struggling - he was home, but he had never really come back from Iraq,” said Mrs. Swoboda.

Eventually her husband was able to get treatment through caregiver support groups like the Dole Foundation. Mrs. Swoboda stressed the importance of programs like these, saying, “I love my husband, and I would absolutely care for him regardless, but having caregiver support programs in place is so important to me because for the first time in 20 years, I can breathe. I cannot imagine how much harder this would be without those programs—but I know millions of caregivers manage every single day.”

Senator Dole established the Elizabeth Dole Foundation to empower military caregivers - the spouses, mothers, fathers, siblings, and other loved ones caring for wounded, ill, and injured service members and veterans at home - and to recognize their service to our nation. Last September, as part of its efforts, the Foundation launched Hidden Heroes, a multifaceted campaign to expose the tremendous challenges and long-term needs faced by military caregivers and inspire fellow Americans to seek solutions.

Click HERE to read the RAND Corporation’s report

Witnesses for the hearing included:

Panel One

  • Senator Elizabeth Dole, Founder, Elizabeth Dole Foundation
  • Ryan Phillippe, Actor, Director, Writer, and Hidden Heroes Ambassador

Panel Two

  • Terri Tanielian, M.A., Senior Behavioral Scientist, the RAND Corporation, Arlington, VA
  • Melanie and Joe Swoboda (U.S. Army), Veteran Caregiver and Veteran, Levant, ME
  • Mary Hahn and Thomas Ward (USMC), Veteran Caregiver and Veteran, Wilmington, NC
  • Wanda and Samuel Ickes (U.S. Army), Veteran Caregiver and Veteran, Alum Bank, PA

Click HERE to read their testimonies.