Military caregivers are eligible for a Pillars of Strength scholarship at UMGC

Julia LeDoux
January 24, 2020 - 10:06 am
Pillars of Strength

University of Maryland Global Campus

Jessica Bitsui embodies selfless sacrifice.

She’s the wife of a combat veteran and Purple Heart recipient who spends her days caring for her husband and their five children, three of whom have special needs.

“One of the challenges of being a caregiver is feeling alone at times through this journey, as only a small portion of family and friends can relate to my situation,” she said.

Bitsui said the challenges she faces were lessened when she was awarded the 2019 Pillars of Strength scholarship at the University of Maryland Global Campus. With the scholarship award, she wants to not only complete her bachelor’s degree but go on to law school, start a non-profit to advocate for children with disabilities and veterans’ causes.

“I am in a position to best advocate for my children with special needs along with my husband who has an invisible injury,” Bitsui said.

The Pillars of Strength Scholarship Program is offered exclusively to military caregivers like Bitsui.  It includes full tuition, fees, and course-required materials for caregivers of recovering service members who became wounded, injured, or ill in the line-of-duty after Sept. 11, 2001.

 “We wanted to honor them in a way that had some permanence to it. And that permanence is a scholarship for further education to help them in life,” said Navy veteran Richard F. Blewitt, president of The Blewitt Foundation and founder of the Pillars of Strength Scholarship program.

Pillars of Strength
University of Maryland Global Campus

The scholarship program is supported and managed by the foundation in partnership with the National Military Family Association and in association with UMGC.

 “The partnering with the Pillars of Strength is a tremendous opportunity for caregivers who are often forgotten in the mix of things,” said Besa Pinchotti, communications director of the National Military Family Association. “They are there supporting their families, being the strength of their families, but they need support, too.”

Post-9/11 military and veteran caregivers fall into a unique category. The VA provides specialized education and training programs for caregivers as well as family support services to assist with the individual needs of the Post-9/11 combat-related disabilities. Daily tasks include regular transportation needs, meals and food preparation, assistance with hygiene and dressing, medication, financial management and facilitating paperwork. This is in addition to providing emotional and mental support. Although most caregivers are immediate family members, many are not.

In 2014, a RAND study determined there are 5.5 million service members in the nation being assisted by a caregiver.  Out of that number, 1.1 million are service members or veterans receiving caregivers’ assistance as a direct result of Post-9/11 combat-related injuries.

To learn more about the program or to apply for a 2020-2021 Pillars of Strength scholarship, go to www.umuc.edu/pillars. The deadline to apply is March 15, 2020.

Sponsored by the University of Maryland Global Campus.