The Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving (RCI), a national nonprofit that supports caregivers of military veterans, announced that the Veterans One-stop Center of WNY’s Operation Family Caregiver Program graduate Jeannine Szumigala was selected to receive the Mattie J.T. Stepanek Caregiving Scholarship. These scholarships are awarded to military caregivers who have demonstrated a commitment to caring for their loved ones and taking care of themselves. Jeannine is the caregiver for her husband, a veteran of the Persian Gulf War. Jeannine and her husband were flown to Georgia to personally meet Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter and President Jimmy Carter who thanked Jeannine for her commitment to caring for one of the nation’s heroes.
Jeannine Szumigala has completed the Veterans One-stop Center’s Operation Family Caregiver (OFC) program which provides support to the caregivers of service members and veterans who have been injured. The Veterans One-stop Center’s Operation Caregiver Program is the only one in the Northeast of the United States and is offered in collaboration with the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving.
When Jeannine met her husband, a veteran of the Persian Gulf War, they fell in love quickly. Over the next 11 years, they had five children, and her husband’s health declined. Yet when he said he needed help, Jeannine’s response was “I need help.” About that time, they received three letters from the Department of Defense, confirming that he had been exposed to particular toxins during his service and was presumed disabled. Jeannine jumped into a role as his caregiver and lost sight of the help she needed for herself. In October 2017, she noticed a magnet for the Veterans One-stop Center of Western New York. It had been hanging on her refrigerator for months, and when she called, an OFC coach called back quickly. Jeannine’s coach helped her see herself as a caregiver and pointed her to resources designed for military caregivers. For the first time, Jeannine felt that someone was with her on her journey, without judgment. Last fall, Jeannine says she was lonely, depressed, isolated, anxious, and overwhelmed. Today she feels empowered, has new skills, and is no longer fearful of the future.
“I wish we could have awarded scholarships to every caregiver who applied,” said RCI’s executive director, Dr. Jennifer Olsen. “Those who were selected represent the many different experiences of military caregivers and demonstrate their great strength and resilience. I am honored to recognize and celebrate their sacrifice.”
“We are honored to partner with the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving to provide support to the caregivers of military veterans.” Said Chuck Marra, President and CEO of the Veterans One-stop Center. “Friends and families are taking care of America’s wounded soldiers at the expense of their own health. Alleviating their struggles is our priority. Jeannine is a wonderful person who deserves the recognition for all her hard work and dedication.”