By Emily Starbuck Gerson
By the time Michelle Solorzano Daly met Kelly West in 2013, she had experienced significant setbacks. Daly spent 10 years serving in the Army working in aviation, with three tours in Iraq. During the last tour, she endured career-ending injuries and was medically retired in late 2009. She was awarded a Purple Heart and went on to earn her MBA, though her injuries left her unable to work.
West had experienced a gut-wrenching breakup, then met Daly, who was adjusting to life as a permanently disabled veteran. The two both identified as lesbian and became fast friends. They began putting on events in Austin for LGBTQ women, helping build community in a queer-friendly city that had no lesbian bars left. They began dating in 2014, and in 2019 they tied the knot. As the relationship progressed, West took on the role as primary caregiver for Daly, who continues to deal with consequences from her injury and has experienced additional health issues.
West, a true creative, previously worked in event planning and currently works for herself doing interior design. She also works on occasional projects with Daly, while also balancing being her wife’s caregiver. Their devotion to one another is truly something special.
Modern Military Association of America: What was it like entering into a relationship with a disabled veteran; was it a new experience for you?
Kelly West: It was a totally new experience for me. I have so much respect for her service and sacrifice. I will admit I was a little intimidated by it. I wanted to give her the space and time to really be able to talk about it with me fully. I asked questions when I felt it was a good time but I never wanted to have her feel like I was pushing or prying.
MMAA: How do you balance being a caregiver within your relationship, and with your work and life outside of it?
KW: The balance is something we work on together. It’s important to me to have something outside of caretaking and her that is mine. I am lucky to love what I do for work so it’s rewarding and helpful.
Caregiving can be overwhelming, but it actually makes our relationship stronger that we are in it together. It requires constant communication, trust and compassion from both of us. Funny thing — those are the ingredients to make a marriage great.
MMAA: Have you had any issues as a lesbian couple navigating the VA?
KW: We have been very lucky with navigating the VA system. She was already so good at advocating for herself before we were a couple, and I follow her lead. Having your spouse attend as many appointments as possible is key. The providers see you as a team and know that the veteran has a support system willing to fight for them.