LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Patti Katter knows first hand the challenges that military and veteran family caregivers face on a daily basis.
The Lakewood Ranch resident is one of 5.5 million spouses, parents, children and other loved ones caring for the nation's wounded, ill and injured military soldiers and veterans.
On May 28, 2007, while deployed to Iraq, her husband, Army Sgt. Ken Katter, was injured when several bombs detonated in an Iraqi village, disabling a truck he was riding in. He sustained a traumatic head injury, ruptured ear drums and neck and back injuries. He retired from the Army in 2010 with a 100 percent disability.
Since that time, Katter has undergone major back surgery stemming from his wartime injuries, and Patti Katter is his primary caregiver.
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She divides her time between helping her husband, caring for the couple's three school-age children, and working from home as a program coordinator for Hope For The Warriors, a national nonprofit organization that provides assistance to wounded service members, their families, and families of those killed in action.
In addition to this, Katter has been selected to the 2015 class of military and veteran caregivers chosen to represent Florida for the Elizabeth Dole Foundation Fellows program. The foundation's fellowship is a national program of volunteer caregivers dedicated to helping their peers navigate medical, financial, legislative, emotional and familial issues that are common to those living and caring for injured military loved ones.
"I am personally grateful that these hidden heroes would add to the selfless service they already provide as caregivers," said foundation founder, former U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole, whose husband, former Sen. Bob Dole, was wounded during World War II.
"I will serve as an ambassador for the foundation," Katter wrote about her individual duties, "and the care-giving cause through attending meetings, events, and media appearances, contribute to planning foundation events in Washington, D.C., where they're based, serve as an advocate by participating in social media to encourage and empower other caregivers to share their own stories, offer advice on networking to strengthen the military and veteran caregiver community, and assist in selecting grantees for the foundation's annual Innovation Grants Program."
She has also started, through her position at Hope For The Warriors, a local post-9/11 military caregiver support group for residents living in the Bradenton-Sarasota area.
"Advocacy is so important. Veteran suicide is high and there's a lot of help out there but you have to want to get it," Katter said. "We have lost so many to war and we don't want to lose them to things that can be prevented."
To ask questions about the post-9/11 caregiver support group, email Katter at email@example.com.
Kathryn Moschella, Lakewood Ranch reporter can be reached at 941-745-7010. Follow her on Twitter@MoschellaHerald.