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AARP & Sky Blossom: The Thomas Family

Start Date:3/24/2021

Start Time:7:00 PM EDT

Duration:60 minutes

Abstract:

Sky Blossom is a raw, candid look at the 24.5 million teens and twenty-somethings caring for a veteran parent or grandparent. Caring for family with tough medical conditions, they stay at home doing things often seen only in hospitals. They are cheerleaders, work part time, and go to college — but also live double lives — quietly growing up as America’s next greatest generation.

In tonight's excerpt, we meet the Hendricks Family, residing in Virginia. Kate remembers how invincible she felt on base. Until the terminal cancer diagnosis. “Focus on goodbyes and living wills competes daily with the ambition ...that once filled my days,” she says. Her five-year old son, Matthew inspires daily, the lessons she gives him more meaningful as days go by. This event is live only and a recording will not be available after the event concludes.

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Speakers

Thomas Family

Dr. Kate Hendricks Thomas is one of the estimated tens of thousands of veterans who are survivors of burn pits, used to dispose of everything from plastics to chemicals while she served. Following her cancer diagnosis, husband Shane, 5-year old son Matthew, and Kate’s siblings stepped in to help as her caregivers. We don’t believe that we were created to be all alone, says Shane. We need the village.

Richard Lui

Director and MSNBC News Anchor

Richard Lui is a veteran and award-winning journalist with more than 30 years in television, film, technology, and business. Currently at MSNBC and previously with CNN Worldwide, he is the first Asian American man to anchor a daily national cable news program, and a team Emmy and Peabody winner. Richard’s directorial debut, the documentary, “SKY BLOSSOM” is nominated for an AARP Movies For Grownups Award. Learn more at richardlui.com.

Robert Shelly

Retired Marine Corps Veteran

Robert has held a variety of positions in public services since retiring from the Marine Corps in July 2005 after 20 years of Honorable service. He was a Disabled Veterans Outreach Specialist in Cumberland County (Fayetteville, NC) for several years and served as the Local Veterans' Employment Representative Supervisor for Sampson and Harnett County. After leaving the Department of Commerce Mr. Shelly was hired as a Veterans Service Officer for Cumberland County. He was elected President of the Cumberland County Veterans Council from 2017 to 2019. My Shelly joined Guilford County on Oct 8, 2019 as the Director of Veterans Services. He has been instrumental in revitalizing the Veterans Service Department. He volunteers as a member of the Guilford County Continuum of Care a non-profit organization working in partnership with other local organizations to end homelessness, he is also a member of the Triad Veterans Coalition a group of local agencies that advocate for Veterans concerning benefits and services. Director Shelly relishes the opportunity along with his staff to change the lives of the Veterans and family member of Guilford County. He enjoys cycling and spending time with family and friends.

Jennifer Ostan

Fellow

Elizabeth Dole Foundation

When Jennifer Ostan’s husband Will returned from Afghanistan in 2013 (his second deployment after serving in Iraq in 2008-2009), she saw him going through the typical reintegration fatigue. But as time progressed, Will’s fatigue remained with him, adding to it a host of mysterious symptoms that would show up for days and weeks at a time. It would be a tedious five-year journey before they began to find answers for these flare-ups and the invisible illness Will battled. In January of 2018, while at an emergency room for the fourth time in one year, Will sent Jennifer a text with a link to an article about Behcet’s Disease, a rare autoinflammatory disease common in the Middle East and Asia. Will told her the doctors believed he may have been exposed to environmental toxins in Afghanistan that brought about Behcet’s Disease. Will’s orders were already cut for an infantry unit getting ready to deploy, but the Army immediately re-routed him, Jennifer, and their twin daughters to Washington, D.C. for access to specialized medical care. In a matter of months, Will was placed in the medical separation process. He was subsequently diagnosed with postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), and received care at Walter Reed Military Medical Center under the purview of the U.S. Special Operations Warrior Care Program. Jennifer stepped up to care for Will during these unpredictable flare-ups while continuing to work part-time and helped navigate his medical retirement, which became official on September 11, 2019. Having a degree in Organizational Development, Jennifer was adept at juggling numerous tasks and projects as well as military life. However, she found her new role as caregiver to be unfamiliar and evolving over time. There is no cure for Behcet’s Disease and the treatment for POTS is trial and error. Similar to so many caregiver scenarios, Jennifer found herself on a journey she never expected. Jennifer currently homeschools their twin daughters and serves as Vice President of Arc of Justice, the non profit organization they founded to advocate for fellow wounded warriors. She continues to research and implement ways that can best support Will’s health challenges, and her time spent providing healthy food and supplements is resulting in marked improvements. In September 2019, when she attended an event hosted by the Elizabeth Dole Foundation in Washington, DC, Jennifer realized she was a military caregiver for the first time. She is now empowered to remind others that they are not alone in their journey and to shine a light on military families and their caregivers.

Virgil Young

1LT Virgil J. Young Jr.

Virgil is a graduate of Howard University R.O.T.C. (Received his commission as a United States Army Officer), 1984. He has received a Master Business Administration (MBA) from Howard University 1994 and a Master of Science in Information Systems Technology from The George Washington University, 2013. Virgil served honorably on active duty in Korea with the 2nd Infantry Division as a Tank Platoon Leader (Airborne Qualified). He is currently employed at the Pentagon as a Telecommunications Specialist with the Department of the Navy. He is also serving his community as the AARP DC Volunteer, Ward 4 Liaison.
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