Two Big Island Residents Selected as Dole Caregiver Fellows
The Elizabeth Dole Foundation announced its 2019 class of Dole Caregiver Fellows on Feb. 27, 2019.
Twenty-six military and veteran caregivers have been carefully selected from across the country to represent the foundation including, Ililani Foree of Kamuela and Lori Smith-Starnes of Waikoloa.
As military/veteran caregivers, Foree and Smith-Starnes will represent the state of Hawai‘i from 2019 to 2021.
Elizabeth Dole Foundation is the preeminent organization empowering, supporting, and honoring our nation’s 5.5 million military caregivers—the spouses, parents, family members and friends—who care for America’s wounded, ill or injured service members and veterans at home. Founded by Sen. Elizabeth Dole in 2012, the foundation adopts a comprehensive approach in its support and advocacy, working with leaders in the public, private, nonprofit, and faith communities to recognize military caregivers’ service and promote their well-being. The foundation’s Hidden Heroes campaign brings vital attention to the untold stories of military caregivers and provides a network for military caregivers to connect with their peers and access carefully vetted resources. Visit www.hiddenheroes.org for more information.
As Dole Caregiver Fellows, Foree and Smith-Starnes will serve as advocates and ambassadors for the nation’s 5.5 million military caregivers—the spouses, parents, family members and friends who provide more than $14 billion in voluntary care for wounded, ill, or injured service members and veterans every year.
They will join nearly 170 past and present fellows who are trained by the foundation and empowered to share their stories and perspectives directly with the White House, Congress, Department of Veterans Affairs and other government agencies, as well as leaders in the business, entertainment and nonprofit sectors.
They will advise the foundation, its coalition partners, and government and community leaders on the most pressing issues concerning military caregivers and influence positive change on behalf of these hidden heroes.
“The foundation is thrilled to welcome our seventh class of Dole Caregiver Fellows to join us in our mission,” said Steve Schwab, CEO of the Elizabeth Dole Foundation. “Our fellows come from different backgrounds but share the same story of strength in caring for their wounded warriors. They are the heart and soul of our foundation, lending their experiences and wisdom to support our work on behalf of military caregivers nationwide. We are beyond grateful for their willingness to step forward as advocates for their fellow hidden heroes.”
Foree serves as a caregiver for her husband, Destin, who sustained hearing loss in one ear, a chronic back injury, Traumatic Brain Injury and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of his military service. (Read her her story below.)
Smith-Starnes serves as a caregiver for her husband, David, who sustained Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Traumatic Brain Injury, severe hearing los, and debilitating migraines as a result of his military service. (Read her her story below.)
Sen. Elizabeth Dole created the Dole Caregiver Fellows program in 2012 to directly engage military and veteran caregivers in the foundation’s mission. The 2019 fellows represent 20 states and the District of Columbia. From educators and doctors, to an Air Force Reservist and medical professionals, the lives of the 2019 class of fellows are as diverse as the millions of military and veteran caregivers across the United States.
About Ililani Foree
Ililani Foree of Kamuela is a caregiver to her husband, Destin, an Army veteran whom she met while he was stationed in Hawai‘i more than 17 years ago. In addition to caring for her husband, Ililani also cares for their four sons between the ages of 10 and 18, one of whom has autism.
Destin became a commissioned combat engineer officer after serving as a combat medic for 11 years and while deployed in Afghanistan in 2011, Destin was injured by an IED explosion. He was hospitalized for nine days and sustained hearing loss in one ear, a chronic back injury, Traumatic Brain Injury and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Ililani stepped up to serve as Destin’s caregiver upon his return, and their lives have never been the same. She helps Destin with daily tasks that include managing his medications, driving, scheduling doctors’ appointments, all while caring for their four sons. She has stood by his side through the toughest of times as he continues to cope with the invisible wounds of war, even stopping him from taking his own life.
Caring for her family is a full-time job and does not leave Ililani with much time to take care for herself. She has found painting to be a great stress reliever and enjoys family outings such as walking their dogs or taking trips to the beach. She also participates in events with her local Wounded Warrior Project chapter.
As a Dole Fellow, Ililani hopes to learn more about the resources available and become a stronger caregiver advocate. She would also like to work with communities in her area and help them become involved in the Foundation’s Hidden Heroes Cities program.
About Lori Smith-Starnes
Lori Starnes of Waikoloa met and married Dave, a soldier in the United States Army, over 20 years ago. In 2010, Dave was injured while serving on a combat tour in Afghanistan during his ninth deployment. In 2014, her son, Russ Starnes, was injured while deployed.
Over the past nine years, Lori has been a full-time caregiver to her husband and now also a part-time caregiver to her son. Dave and Russ both suffer from Post Traumatic Stress (PTS) and Dave also has Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), severe hearing loss and debilitating migraines.
Lori assists her husband daily with medications, driving, scheduling appointments, and all household chores and financials. She does everything she can to support Dave and Russ as they struggle with daily obstacles, but life has forever changed for this strong military family.
Looking back, life was altered way before the last deployment.
Lori also has a daughter who is active duty in the United States Army. Lori works a part-time job to stay actively engaged in her community. She previously worked for the United States Army as a Family Readiness Program Liaison and understands the military life in its entirety. She planned memorial services for families that had lost a soldier.
In her role as a Dole Fellow, Lori hopes to mentor young caregivers and help them overcome the issues they face every single day. Lori is looking forward to working with Veteran Support Organizations and her local and state representatives to ensure military caregivers are heard and that people carry forward a message of hope for the future of our nation’s veterans and caregivers.
Lori wants to spread awareness of what life is like for caregivers who put their lives on hold to support loved ones and that the dreams these caregivers and their veterans once had are forever changed by the everlasting invisible wounds of war. Finding a new normal is stressful and frustrating, and she hopes to have the opportunity to help her family and other families see the future is bright with hope and that its ok to reach out for support.