First lady Jill Biden laid out her plan in broad terms Wednesday for helping improve the lives of military families over the next few years.
The Joining Forces focus will be on some decades-old challenges for military families, such as military spouse employment and entrepreneurship and access to quality child care; and making sure military children have what they need to succeed in education. Efforts will also focus on military family health and well-being by “improving access to mental health resources, ensuring everyone can put food on the table, and supporting caregiving families and survivors,” she said, during a virtual White House event.
Biden said she has commitments from the departments of Defense, Labor and Education, “and this is just the beginning. Our effort will take all of our government working together, and we expect every agency to step up and be part of it.”
A White House announcement provided some more details about the initiative. Joining Forces will:
* work with employers to create more flexible, transferable and remote job opportunities for military spouses, and to increase resources for those interested in entrepreneurship. “We will also ensure that military families are included in the administration’s overall policies aimed at improving economic security for all families,” the White House announcement stated.
*advance programming to support military-connected children in their classrooms, and help ease the burdens caused by the mobile military life. “We must understand and account for the lifelong impact of service on military-connected children and ensure that children in veteran families, caregiving families and surviving families” are included in the initiative. Military children with special needs and their challenges with PCS moves are also a part of the initiative.
*work closely with service providers in the civilian community to make sure they have the knowledge and tools to effectively support military and veteran families, caregivers and survivors. Members of military families and caregivers may experience mental health challenges like depression, anxiety and substance abuse. And caregiving for a wounded, ill or injured family member “can have an outsized impact on a caregiver’s health, financial stability and economic security. “Additionally, some military families report a lack of consistent access to enough food to live an active, healthy lifestyle. The global pandemic over the past year has intensified these stressors,” according to the announcement.
Biden and former first lady Michelle Obama began the Joining Forces initiative 10 years ago, and this marks “the next chapter” of the White House initiative, she said. The effort includes families of service members and veterans; caregivers of the wounded, ill and injured; and survivors. “You may not wear a uniform. But you serve and you sacrifice for us all,” said Biden, a military mom and grandmother.
She has held listening sessions with military families over the last couple of months.
Biden noted the stories she’s heard, “from difficult PCSes to the lack of child care on and off bases, from fighting to keep your own careers and identities to saying goodbye to beloved schools and friends, from caring for your loved ones to mourning those who have been lost.”
As she has said before, “supporting your physical, social and emotional health is a national security imperative.”
President Biden “understands that there is no greater honor than serving those who serve our country – everyone who serves,” she said. “He’s going to make sure that you and your community are seen. And our goal is that this work will live on long after we leave, as a permanent priority for every White House.”
Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.