To say Torrey Shannon is busy would be an understatement. Torrey is a veterans’ advocate, an accomplished writer, a speaker and an Elizabeth Dole Foundation Fellow, but first and foremost, she is a wife, mother and caregiver. She met her husband, SSG John Daniel “Dan” Shannon, 22 years ago and they have three sons.
“Dan and I met on a blind date,” recalls Torrey. “We originally met on October 3, 1992 and were married on November 23, 1993. He was in the army before we met and was deployed multiple times during our marriage. He was only able to spend a limited time with our family, but he was an amazing father and was actively involved with our kids whether he was home or away. When he was home, he dedicated his time to us.”
Unfortunately, the strain of military life became an issue and they divorced in 2003. Dan left to serve in Korea the day after their divorce was final, served for another year, and volunteered to serve in Iraq in 2004. After surviving a gunshot wound to the head during a gunfight on November 13, 2004, Dan was moved to Walter Reed Army Medical Center where he would spend three years in recovery. Dan and Torrey reconnected during his recovery and remarried in 2005.
“Initially, I tried to work outside of the home but I made the decision in 2008 to stay home to care for him. The changes became a complete overhaul from the life we used to live. We also made the decision to live in a remote area because Dan doesn’t do well in urban areas or large cities because of his PTSD. Right now, what works best is living in a remote area.”
Dan was medically retired in 2009 and moved to Colorado with Torrey and their kids. He continues to deal with the effects of a traumatic brain injury (TBI) and now suffers from severe Post-traumatic stress disorder . Dan receives in-home healthcare services through the VA at their home located 20 miles outside of Westcliffe, CO (Population: 400). Torrey leads Dan’s caregiving team, but has support from doctors who meet with him via an in-home telemedicine unit, nurses who provide house calls and an in-home aid who helps him for eight hours each day.
So how does Torrey stay motivated through it all?
“I am proud of the strength that I found inside myself to get through it all. I was tested over and over and over again and I learned more about myself: my capacity to love and my capacity to give. It came from so deep within I didn’t even know it was there. I knew I was a strong and a capable person as a military wife, but I wasn’t truly tested until Dan was injured. I had to change in order to be a better wife, caregiver and mother.”
Torrey continued, “As difficult as these years have been, he inspires me and makes me a better person as I watch him go through his own struggles. I’ve learned a lot as a result. A lot of growth comes in the course of hardship and we have both done a good job. We have well-adjusted children and a strong marriage, stronger than I ever imagined. No matter what life throws at us, we know we can get through it together. We have also kept a sense of humor, which is a game changer. I know I can’t do it all and I’m not going to be able to do it all, but I do my best. I want to help others through this journey and the best way I know to do that is to tell our story.”
One of the ways Torrey works to tell others their story is through her position as a Fellow in The Elizabeth Dole Foundation’s Dole Fellows Program. She finds it a very big honor, especially to be part of the inaugural program because she has the opportunity to spearhead and guide where it goes.
“The Dole Foundation gives caregivers a voice and allows us to speak up, for ourselves and for others like us. In the military culture, spouses are often dismissed and systems often don’t recognize our input. This gives us that voice. It feels so good to know that not only my voice is being heard but that caregivers as a whole will be heard.”
While Torrey helps so many others with her own voice to find theirs, The Home Depot Foundation was lucky enough to help her and her family in partnership with The Elizabeth Dole Foundation and Operation Homefront by providing adjustments including new appliances, a paved parking pad and upcoming weatherization to make their house safe and comfortable.
“I am honored to be able to provide care for Dan. He has provided for us, served our country and now it is my time to serve. I do so with complete faith in him and his abilities. I want him to have the best quality of life. He is a walking miracle. He tries so hard every day, and the least I can do is support him and be beside him.”
In any spare time she finds, Torrey is writing a book and is in the media both in front of the camera and behind the scenes. Regardless of how busy she is, Torrey always puts her husband first.