First lady Michelle Obama and Jill Biden, who have teamed up for the last three years to support military families as part of the Joining Forces initiative, announced at the White House Friday additional efforts to support caregivers, with the help of public and private partnerships.
Joined by former senator Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.) and former first lady Rosalyn Carter, Obama and Biden noted that the sacrifices of caregivers has often gone overlooked by the general public, as families have tried to piece together new lives when wounded soldiers have returned home, and as the veterans population continues to age.
Dole spoke about caring for her husband, who was seriously injured in World War II, and she called the struggles of caregivers, “a quiet, untold story of profound need.”
A 2013 report, which was commissioned by Dole and released by the RAND Corporation, estimated that roughly 5.5 million Americans are caring for service members and veterans, including 1.1 million who are caring for someone who served after Sept. 11, 2001.
Obama, who got emotional at times, said that the new efforts mark a call to service to Americans who should match the sacrifice of the military families with support for them.
“We have to keep asking ourselves, what more can we do,” she said.
Among the new initiatives, per the White House:
- The Department of Defense will offer all military caregivers a peer-to-peer support initiative. Over the next 14 months, the Department of Defense will create forums for caregivers at every military installation around the world that serves wounded warriors and their caregivers.
- The successful Chamber of Commerce Hiring Our Heroes program will pilot an initiative to help caregivers find jobs. The Chamber of Commerce will expand its current job fair program focused on veterans by developing a targeted program in areas with high concentrations of military caregivers, namely, those around military treatment facilities. Recognizing that many military caregivers have limited flexibility, the Chamber of Commerce will also incorporate caregivers into a virtual job fair program. Additionally, the Chamber of Commerce will host a summit for the business community in September to promote employment and workplace friendly environments for military caregivers.
- The Military Officers of Association of American (MOAA), with assistance from the USAA Bank, the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, and the American Bar Association (ABA), is launching an online guide to aid caregivers in contingency planning and decision making. The Web site will be a major public portal for caregivers across the country to access free financial, legal and social resources, including military and veteran benefits and support during or after transitioning from the military. This initiative will be further enhanced through a major national collaborative effort Lawyers for Heroes, a partnership between Public Council’s Center for Veterans Advancement, the ABA and MOAA to offer free legal support to military families who are struggling the most financially. Google will incorporate its online collaboration service Helpouts into the site, giving military caregivers the ability to speak online with social workers who can provide free screening and resource assistance.
“So this is a big deal. And it’s really just the tip of the iceberg,” she said. “Because everything that we’re talking about today –- from the peer forums to all of the new resources that Senator Dole mentioned -– all of that is a supplement to the tremendous caregiver support offered by the military and by the VA.”