Tobian Kills in Water, pictured with her husband Craig and son Malik Bear Heels, was recently recognized by the Elizabeth Dole Foundation as a national advocate on behalf of military and veteran caregivers.

Native American Veteran Caregiver Nationally Recognized

Vincent Schilling

Tobian Kills in Water, an advocate for Native veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) and a caregiver to her injured veteran husband Craig, has been named as a national advocate on behalf of military and veteran caregivers by the Elizabeth Dole Foundation. She is the first Elizabeth Dole Fellow to represent Native Americans.

According to a release, Kills in Water was selected as part of the 2015 class of fellows and represents her state of South Dakota. As an advocate, Kills in Water will share her story, experiences, and resources with other caregivers in need and have the opportunities to travel to Washington, D.C. to speak with lawmakers on behalf of military families affected by PTSD and TBI.

Kills in Water told ICTMN that she is thrilled to have been named an advocate for the Dole Foundation. But she is also thankful to share her experience with other veterans and their families who may be unaware of the benefits available for families who leave the military.

“I am so excited,” says Kills in Water. “When my husband retired in 2012 and when we came out of the military, it was crazy because we did not know anything about benefits that were out there or things that could help us. We were lost.”

“This is the whole reason I am doing this. We figured out that we are not the only ones that need help. Now that I am back in college – I am meeting with other caregiving wives and they are in similar situations. They too are lost like we were.”

In 2014, Elizabeth Dole Fellows provided insight and advice about challenges encountered by military caregivers and their families during face to face meetings with the White House, the Department of Veterans Affairs, more than 100 Members of Congress, and dozens of leaders in the public, private, nonprofit, labor and faith communities.

In 2015, Kills in Water will be among the Fellows at the Elizabeth Dole Foundation who will serve as a representative for Native American families and Native veterans.

“Our Fellows are the heart and soul of our Foundation’s work,” former North Carolina Senator Elizabeth Dole said in the release. “The wisdom of their personal experience is invaluable, and it helps guide the focus of our National Coalition. I am personally grateful that these hidden heroes would add to the selfless service they already provide as caregivers by volunteering to represent the millions of their peers in need of better support from our nation.”

Kills in Water told ICTMN she has heard a lot of troubling stories and she desires to help them in every way possible.

“So many other women and families are out there in the world that have come back from serving in the military – and I know three personally – have told me troubling stories,” said Kills in Water. “One woman said that when they returned from the military, they had to live in a basement for three months until they could get their benefits going and figure out the system.

“We lived with my sister and she had six kids. It was tough to get back on our feet again, because we did not anticipate how fast the out-processing was going to go. We had money saved up, but it is hard to transition so suddenly. But to do it with the military member who has injuries is even more difficult. This was a big motivation for me to get involved.”

Kills in Water says that after she got out of the military along with her husband who suffered from PTSD and other injuries – she started researching as much as possible to find help. She says she intends to share her knowledge with other Native families who will benefit from her knowledge.

“At first I joined as many caregiver groups as I could possibly find. I stalked everyone to get information. In one Facebook group, they talked about the Elizabeth Dole foundation – so I researched it and applied to be a fellow.”

After several interviews including one on Skype, Kills in Water says she was thrilled to be named a fellow to help other families in need. Her desires now are to get resources into one place and share her knowledge with others.

“In my interviews I expressed that my goal was to go to reservations and do outreach on a personal level,” she said. “I really hope to work to get all of these resources in one spot.”

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