Shelle Michaels Aberle
Shelle Aberle with former U.S. Senator Elizabeth Dole. (Submitted photo)

The role of a military or veteran caregiver is complicated, consuming and, at times, emotional. Since 2003, I have supported the wounded warrior and ill veterans and their families across the nation. I never thought that one day the role of caregiver would be mine. My husband, retired Col. Michael Aberle has hereditary polycystic kidney disease. It was not until the spring of 2012 that he was diagnosed with stage three kidney failure and he was placed on a national donor list.

When Mike was diagnosed, he was still in the military, and he did not want anyone to know that he was "sick." Since then I have been blogging under a pseudonym on a highly trafficked military blog and have secured hundreds of people to be tested for a donor match. As of today, we still have yet to secure a donor.

While our journey is different than a wounded warrior and his or her caregiver, we all face battles. Caregiving is a 24-hour a day responsibility, taking on family finances, legal matters and complex healthcare and benefits systems. Our nation knows very little about the sacrifices of the caregivers; the enormities of the challenges we face are difficult to comprehend.

Inspired by her experience while her husband Bob Dole was at Walter Reed Army Medical, former U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole launched Caring for Military Families: The Elizabeth Dole Foundation as a way to mobilize individual Americans, public and private sector leaders, corporations and nonprofit organizations. The Dole Foundation began their work by commissioning the first-ever comprehensive, evidence-based study on the challenges and needs of military and veteran caregivers through the RAND Corporation.

This report revealed that 5.5 million Americans are caring for ill or wounded service members and veterans. Many of these caregivers have been serving in this role for years and even decades, while others will serve for years and decades to come.

While I am not in the same situation as receiving that shocking call from the battle field, I am a caregiver of an ill veteran and was accepted to become the first Dole Caregiver Fellow from North Dakota.

In April, caregivers from nearly every state were invited to Washington, D.C., as Elizabeth Dole launched along with United States first lady Michelle Obama, Dr. Jill Biden and former first lady Rosalynn Carter, a national response to the challenges faced by our nation's caregivers. While in D.C. we met with our members of Congress to share the RAND Study and were guests of U.S. Sen. Patty Murray as she introduced S.2243 -the Military and Veteran Caregiver Services Improvement Act of 2014.

My dedication through the years to our warriors and their families has taught me that major breakthroughs occur by encouraging collaboration, investing in innovation, breaking down silos and focusing on solutions. We must do a far better job supporting our military families and especially the hidden heroes. I trust that once America learns more about the urgent needs of these caregivers they will respond. That's the American way.

Shelle Aberle is an expert in social media and works to advocate for women and children; military, veterans and families; and vulnerable populations. Her motto is, "Think globally; act locally."