Groups provide full-ride scholarships to wounded warrior caregivers

wounded warrior caregiver

Shundra Johnson, left, gives encouragement to her husband Coast Guard Lt. Sancho Johnson during the Navy’s wounded warrior training camp for the 2015 DoD Warrior Games in Port Hueneme, Calif., May 29, 2015. Shundra is also her husband’s caregiver. (DoD News photo by EJ Hersom)

By Chas Henry

People who give up years of their lives caring for wounded veterans are under-appreciated.

That’s the view of two non-profits and a major public university that have joined forces to offer such caregivers generous academic scholarships.

“We owe it to people to tell them what caregivers do,” says Rich Blewitt of the Blewitt Foundation — which has joined with the Yellow Ribbon Fund and the University of Maryland University College (UMUC) to create the Pillars of Strength Scholarship Program.

“It’s not just the great heroes that they wait on, that they help, that they aid, that they care for. It’s what they gave up to do it. And everybody doesn’t have that. These people are just wonderful.”

In 2013, the group began offering fully-funded four-year scholarships — which caregivers can use for undergraduate or graduate education.

“The idea,” says UMUC President Javier Miyares, is to “provide them with access to an education — which can be done at home, online — so when their spouses get better, don’t need as much constant care, the people who have been taking care of them can go into the job market and be fully prepared.”

Fifteen scholarship recipients are currently studying under the Pillars of Strength program — the five most recent having been selected late May.

Secret Brutely of White Plains, Maryland is among the group’s class of 2017. After eight years of service in the U.S. Navy, her husband was diagnosed as suffering effects of a traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress. That created caregiving requirements on top of Secret’s tending to the couple’s three children, aged 11, eight and five.

“It’s just depending on whatever his mood is,” she says. “Sometimes he can need a lot of care and then sometimes he wants to be distant. It’s just really trying to find a balance and working everything out. Again, that’s why I like UMUC; because you can take your classes at night, and then you have that quiet time to focus on your schoolwork.”

pillars of strength scholarship recipients Groups provide full ride scholarships to wounded warrior caregivers

In 2017, five wounded warrior caregivers were awarded full-ride academic scholarships through the Pillars of Strength program. (L to R) Cara Novas, Noelle Savage, Hilda Buah-Mensah, and Secret Brutley. Fifteen caregivers are presently earning undergraduate and graduate degrees paid for by program underwriters. (Photo by Robert Ludwig, UMUC)

Noelle Savage and her husband Charles, a U.S. Army veteran, live in Pennsylvania, where he deals with emotional issues that — following a deployment to Afghanistan — led to his being medically discharged. That required Noelle to add “provide care” to her daily work list.

“Helping him make sure he takes his medication, and things like that,” Noelle recounts. “And then he did, last summer, have two hip surgeries from a service-connected injury — so that required a lot of extra work, because he was laid up pretty much all summer. We had to do a lot of physical therapy.”

Noelle’s Pillars of Strength scholarship will help her complete an educational journey frequently interrupted by the necessities of military life.

“I’ve been going to school for about 10 years now,” she says. “I started when we first got married, but with all the moves and everything, credits didn’t transfer, and I had to start all over at different schools.

So I actually just graduated with my bachelors in May, for healthcare administration, and that’s what I’m going to complete my masters in, as well. It will help our future financial stability, and I am looking forward to starting a career of my own.”

Blewitt thinks the consortium funding these scholarships may have found a niche in which, given achievable fundraising goals, scholarships could be provided to all eligible and interested wounded warrior caregivers.

“The number of people who are going to apply for something like this is not necessarily all the caregivers in the world,” he explains. “You’ve got to be willing to go back to college, or start college, you have to be of a different age group where you’re feeling you have the energy to take it on — when you have all these big responsibilities already.  We feel that… if we get enough support, we can almost fill the application base.”

Connect: @ChasHenryNews | Chas@ConnectingVets.com

Listen Live