Adelphi, Md. (Aug. 15)—For the first time in the 10-year history of the program, men caring for injured, ill or wounded women veterans have been included among this year’s Pillars of Strength scholarship recipients.
Four men—two husbands who cared for their wives, a brother who cared for his sister and a son who grew up assisting his mother—are among this year’s 10 scholarship recipients.
“I am proud of my service as a full-time stay-at-home caregiver for a disabled veteran,” said Scott Lynch, who had to quit his full-time job in 2012 to take care of his wife, Monica, and their two boys.
With these new recipients, Pillars of Strength Scholarships at University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) have been awarded to 69 caregivers since the program started in 2013. The scholarship covers full tuition for as long as the recipient needs to complete a degree.
The scholarships recognize the often-overlooked sacrifices of caregivers, who have devoted years of their lives to caring for their wounded, ill or injured relatives. These caregivers receive few, if any, federal education benefits, yet many of them are the main family earners.
While most recipients use the scholarships to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees, one of this year’s recipients, Angela Cooper, plans to use her scholarship to earn a doctorate—a lifelong dream she would otherwise never be able to afford.
UMGC President. Gregory Fowler said that recognizing men who are caregivers says a lot about how the modern military includes women combatants. He said it also underscores how whole families are taking responsibility for the care of women servicemembers.
“Today’s U.S. military has women serving in every role to maintain America’s military power,” Fowler said. “That means caring for the wounded will inevitably fall on men, and we are proud to recognize their sacrifices with these scholarships.”
Rich Blewitt, CEO of The Blewitt Foundation, established Pillars of Strength and continues to raise money for the scholarships. He said the progress made by the recipients is a testament to the value of the only program of its type that helps caregivers jumpstart careers that might have been put on hold for years.
“Caregiving is not only provided by women,” Blewitt said. “That two husbands, a brother and a son were awarded the scholarships shows that caring for wounded veterans truly is a broader responsibility among family, friends and loved ones, and they all deserve our support.”
What is remarkable about many of the Pillars of Strength caregivers is their determination to reach out to other injured, ill or wounded veterans and their caregivers.
Pillars of Strength recipient Lauren Fagan and her husband Osee have worked their way up “from rock bottom” to create a nonprofit they called Operation Barnabas. It assists wounded veterans with the type of drug and alcohol abuse that often leads to suicide. Because they have suffered so much themselves, the Osees believe they have the credibility to reach fellow sufferers.
Another scholarship recipient, Paula Collins, talked about the support system that caregivers provide one another.
“I have friends that when I just feel like my brain is gonna’ explode and I just need to vent, I can call them and there's no judgment,” she said. “Because of that, we are able to be where we are.”
David Williams has been caring for his sister since shortly after he graduated from high school. The experience, he said, changed his education and career plans. Despite the difficulties he had been through, he said he learned so much about health care that it is now his career ambition.
With few resources to pursue his education, he said the call from UMGC “was absolutely life changing for me.”
Below are links to profiles of the 2023 class of Pillars of Strength Scholarship recipients:
Angela Cooper Hopes to Fulfill Dream of Earning Doctorate
Caring for Sister Inspires David Williams to Seek Degree in Healthcare
Lauren Fagan’s Caregiver Journey Leads to Helping Other Veterans
Lyra Helms to Connect Degree in Cybersecurity with Experience in Healthcare
MG Gipson is Pursuing Her Passion in the Music and Dance Industry
Michael Vyas Overcomes Preconceptions as Caregiver to His Wife, Rachelle
Paula Collins and Her Husband Have “Been Through a Lot of Struggles Together”
Scott Lynch and His Wife Monica “Chose to Fight” for Her Recovery