New Dole Fellow focused on helping military caregivers

New Dole Fellow focused on helping military caregivers

Consuelo Bulawan-Jessop serves as a caregiver for her husband, Chris, who sustained Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Traumatic Brain Injury and tinnitus as a result of his military service. Consuelo has been named a 2019 Elizabeth Dole Foundation Fellow for her role as a caregiver. (Breeze photo by Nicole Dotzenrod)

NORTH PROVIDENCE – Consuelo Bulawan-Jessop has a simple but important message to share with military caregivers such as herself: you are not alone.

“I was blind to all of the resources available,” she said, “…which happens with a lot of caregivers. They tend to isolate.”

Bulawan-Jessop hopes to better connect with other military caregivers, serving as their advocate and ambassador in her new role as a 2019 Elizabeth Dole Foundation Fellow, one of 26 military and veteran caregivers selected from across the country to represent the foundation for the next three years.

In her role as a Dole Caregiver Fellow, she will train with the foundation in order to advise it, as well its coalition partners and government and community leaders, on the most pressing issues concerning military caregivers, influencing positive change. The mission of the Elizabeth Dole Foundation is to empower, support and honor the nearly 5.5 million Americans who care for the country’s wounded, ill or injured service members and veterans at home.

Bulawan-Jessop serves as caregiver for her husband Chris, whose symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury and tinnitus began to surface shortly after their marriage in 2011.

The pair had been childhood friends in North Providence, falling in love as teens and remaining together through his first military enlistment in the late 1980s. The couple eventually went their separate ways, experiencing life before they reconnected 18 years later.

“It was like nothing had changed after all those years,” Chris said.

A decade before the couple rekindled their romance, the former infantryman found himself returning to the U.S. Army recruiter’s office for his second round of service. It was Sept. 12, 2001, the day after the September 11 terrorist attacks.

“I wanted to see what I could do,” he said.

His commercial driver’s license earned him a ticket to Iraq, where he served on the transportation unit. He served a total of three tours in Iraq, returning in 2003, 2004 and 2009 before he was discharged in 2010. He and Bulawan-Jessop were married the following year.

Asked about his transition home and re-acclimating to civilian life, he said, “it was difficult … it’s still difficult now.”

As Chris continued to suffer from night terrors, unexplained vomiting, debilitating headaches and depression, Consuelo made the difficult decision in 2016 to retire from her career as a hairstylist to care for her husband full time, managing his medications and medical appointments in addition to household chores, cooking, driving and much more.

While the Veterans Administration (VA) is his health care provider, Bulawan-Jessop is typically the first person that might see his symptoms arise. She said it’s difficult to describe what it’s like to be a spouse and a caregiver at once, calling it a, “different path of caring where stepping away doesn’t come that easily.”

“A lot of veterans come home and are being cared for by their parents or their adult children if not by a spouse,” she said. “For a lot of people, unfortunately, it is a 24-hour job.”

“I hate to use the word job,” she added, “… but some days it can seem like work. But it’s all done out of love.”

For example, she said she was up with Chris since 4:30 a.m. that day. On the nights he can’t sleep, “every time he’s up I’m up with him,” she said.

It wasn’t until she attended a retreat in 2016 for military caregivers that she began to see herself as one.

“I never thought of myself as a caregiver until that retreat … I was just a wife. It was an amazing week whether I realized there are other spouses out there going through similar things,” she said. “We had the same story to share about caring for a loved one.”

Embracing the title of caregiver has helped her recognize that she is not alone, and underscores the importance of caregivers practicing self-care and taking time to focus on their own mental, physical and spiritual health and wellness.

To that end, she said she is eager to work with state and local officials and the VA to expand respite and wellness programs for people like her who often experience “caregiver burnout.”

She hopes her Dole Fellowship will provide an opportunity to connect with other caregivers and create a network of healing.

“Find your peers,” she encouraged. “The world opened up to me and blossomed when I realized I was a caregiver … when other military caregivers shared their stories with me and allowed me to share mine.”

Comments

I wonder if his wireless cell tel ear bud there, has any effect on his tinnitus??? They are known to affect such.