By Elaine Sanchez
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 31, 2012 - Caregivers of wounded warriors often make great sacrifices to be at their loved one's side. They quit their jobs, sell their homes and leave family members and friends behind, often for years at a time.
Yesterday, First Lady Michelle Obama and other senior leaders gathered to honor the service and sacrifice of these military caregivers. Alongside Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, the first lady announced a proposal that would enable more military family members to take the time they need to care for their wounded and ill loved ones.
"We want to recognize the extraordinary dedication, sacrifice and service of our nation's caregivers, not simply with words, but with deeds," the first lady told the audience gathered at the Labor Department in Washington, D.C. "These are men and women and children who will do anything for their loved ones, no matter the cost, no matter the sacrifice, no matter the consequences."
The Labor Department's proposal expands military family leave protections under the Family and Medical Leave Act, and benefits not only military caregivers, but also military families as a whole.
The proposal would, in part:
-- Extend the 26-week unpaid leave entitlement to family members caring for recent veterans with a serious injury or illness incurred in the line of duty, including conditions that may arise up to five years after leaving the military;
-- Allow family members to take time off from work before, during or after a spouse, child or parent's deployment to tend to service-related matters, such as military briefings or making financial and legal arrangements; and
-- Increase the amount of time an employee may take to spend with a loved one who is on rest or recuperation leave from five days to up to 15 days.
If enacted, the first lady noted, the proposal would give caregivers the flexibility and time they need to care for their wounded military loved ones without fear of job repercussions.
As I listened from the back of the packed auditorium, I thought of the positive impact these measures would have on people like Saralee Trimble, who cares full-time for her triple-amputee son.
Saralee had dropped everything to rush to her soldier son's bedside after he was injured in Afghanistan in September. Her son, Army Pfc. Kevin Trimble, had lost both of his legs above the knee and his left arm above the elbow after a roadside explosion.
Saralee expects to be in San Antonio with him for another two years.
She told me one afternoon about her caregiving journey, which entails round-the-clock care for her son. But the hardest part of it all, she told me with tears in her eyes, is seeing her son in pain.
But Saralee said she'd shoulder that burden and more for as long as it takes. "He's my son. Caring for him ... I couldn't ask for anything more special."
For more on the Labor Department's proposal and other measures under way to aid caregivers, read my American Forces Press Service article, "Proposal Would Expand Support for Military Caregivers."
For more military family-related posts, visit the AFPS' Family Matters blog.
Family Matters Blog
Sean P Eagan
Former Chairman American Cold War Veterans