East Room, The White House
In 2009, with two wars raging, I visited Walter Reed Hospital whenever I could. I would sit near the beds of the wounded warriors, usually with a spouse close by, and listen to their stories of courage and sacrifice. Over time, I built relationships with those families. And my heart went out to the spouses who cared for them—so often young moms, bouncing babies on their hips.
Back then, I marveled at how they seemed to carry their families on will and grit alone, seamlessly moving between feeding an infant and making complex decisions on their husband’s treatment.
But today, at my very first in-person White House East Room event, I’m thinking about the children in those rooms.
I think about how they have grown up like Gabby and Ava, helping their dad cope with an injury that they can’t see.
Like Sylvia’s daughter, Zianny, who helps her dad keep track of his medications and doctor appointments.
Like Noah, who learned how to get his dad through a severe seizure if his mom wasn’t home.
Like Kris, who worried so deeply about his father’s wellbeing that he began to experience similar trauma.
Or like Mason, who became the family entertainer—always ready with a joke or story, to put a smile on his parents’ faces when things seem hopeless.
The six brave kids here in our front row represent more than 2 million “hidden helpers” across the country, who are growing up in the shadow of 20 years of war.
Some are old enough to be going to college or pursuing careers—and some are young enough that you still don’t understand what makes your family unique. But all of you are serving and sacrificing in your own way.
And it’s time that we, as a nation, recognize you and commit to giving you the support you deserve.
Because from a young age, hidden helpers learn the cost of our wars up close.
You see how difficult the road to recovery can be. You know the reality of changing bandages or long stays in hospital rooms. You get tired of having to be brave. And there’s no way to stop you from feeling sad sometimes.
No, we can’t shield our caregiving kids from the reality of war or its aftermath, but we can recognize that the costs last long after our troops come home—and that injuries can be felt throughout generations.
We can celebrate caregiver kids’ strength and resilience.
We can—and we must—give our military and veteran caregiving families everything they need to care for their wounded warrior with compassion, dignity, and love.
We must bring hidden helpers’ service out of the shadows—let their light shine—and give them the support they need to thrive.
That’s why I am so grateful for the groundbreaking study that the Elizabeth Dole Foundation is releasing today on the experiences and needs of caregiving children across the country.
Senator Dole, for seven years, it has been an honor to stand with you, and now to join the Elizabeth Dole Foundation as a member of the Hidden Helpers Coalition.
Thanks to your work and the commitment of 60 public and private organizations like the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers, Sesame Street, MCEC, and PsychArmor, we have a powerful coalition ready to step up.
Through Joining Forces—my White House initiative that supports our military and veteran families, caregivers and survivors—we launched the first ever interagency working group focused on the needs of children in caregiving homes.
And the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has committed to connecting caregiving families to resources in their communities.
Supporting our caregivers is critical to our national security. Our troops and their families need to know that if they ever face injuries, illnesses, or wounds, we will have your back.
Gabby and Ava, Zianny and Noah, Kris and Mason, today is all about you.
We’re here to celebrate you. Your bravery. Your kindness. Your compassion and hard work.
We’re here to thank you for everything you do to help out at home—all the extra chores you take on or the times you watch your brothers and sisters. We know you need a break sometimes—and that you need to be around kids and teachers who understand what you’re going through, without needing it explained.
We’re here to honor the sacrifices you’ve made—the time you’ve missed with friends or moments you feel lonely because your family is different.
And, most of all, we’re here to tell you that you aren’t “hidden” any more.
You’re not alone. Don’t forget that. The President and I see you. The Secretaries, Senator Dole, your military, and all of our partners see you. And we see the millions of kids out there just like you.
But not only do we see you, we stand with you. And we are going to work to live up to the example of courage and duty that you set every day.
Thank you and God bless your families.