WASHINGTON — Former Republican Sen. Elizabeth Dole no longer represents North Carolina in Congress, but her life is still devoted to public service.

In 2012, she established the Elizabeth Dole Foundation to support military families and those providing care for veterans. Dole says she learned firsthand about caregivers’ challenges after her husband – former Kansas Senator Bob Dole – spent nearly a year at Walter Reed Medical Center recovering from a medical emergency.

“I felt, ‘What can I do to be helpful here?’ because they (the caregivers) were trying to coordinate across medical systems that have different structures and worrying about how it was going to be when they got home,” she said.

Recently, Dole brought together a bipartisan group of House and Senate leaders — including Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) — to raise awareness about the 5.5 million Americans who care for the country’s wounded warriors.

“The four of them have agreed to co-chair the Hidden Heroes Congressional Caucus for Military and Veteran Caregivers,” said Dole. “And, already, legislation is moving through there.”

Dole left politics after losing her Senate seat to Democrat Kay Hagan in 2008. Political watchers say her decision to not participate in televised debates and a now-iconic political TV ad, featuring two older men sitting in rocking chairs outside a country store, helped Hagan win that race.

“Oh, you know, I’m sure there are always things you that look back and think you might have done it differently,” Dole said. “But in the rush of things, I was trying to … I did go to all the 100 counties, and I really enjoyed that. And so you are out there interacting, doing multiple events every day. And there are people back working on other things that you are hearing about sometimes at the last minute. And there’s not even the luxury or the time to change. So sure, it’s a tough thing.”

Dole, who worked in the administrations of five presidents, still has one of the strongest resumes in politics.

In addition to being the first woman to represent North Carolina in the U.S. Senate, she is also the first woman to be appointed secretary of the U.S. Transportation Department. Dole also served as U.S. Secretary of Labor; she was president of the American Red Cross; and, for a time, she ran for the Republican nomination in the 2000 presidential election.

But Dole says she has no intentions of returning to politics or supporting a candidate for office.

“We’re so bipartisan,” said Dole. “I think the basis of this foundation is that we’re working very closely with people on both sides of the aisle, and we’re getting wonderful results.”

She added: “It’s a mission field. And I find that through my career, I always needed that mission field.”

– Geoff Bennett