First lady Michelle Obama and former first lady Laura Bush on Friday urged the next occupants of the White House to be vocal advocates for veterans and servicemembers, because the challenges and sacrifices of those military families isn't over.  

"You worry in the White House when you have troops in harm's way," Bush said. "You think about them every single night. There, in the lap of luxury, where your sheets are changed for you every single day … our troops are laying down on the ground somewhere.

"You worry about them. All the time. Every single day."

The pair spoke at an American University event series designed to highlight the advocacy role of first ladies in American history. Both of Bush and Obama have focused in recent years on highlighting military and veterans families in their work, with Obama launching the White House's Joining Forces initiative in 2011 to focus that effort.

And both said they want that work to continue, regardless of which candidate wins in November.

"There is something that everyone can do to support this community, but the commander in chief, the first family … they have an obligation to set that tone," Obama said. "I would hope that responsibility comes with the house.

"(We need to) make sure that we never go back to the time of the Vietnam War, where a veteran comes home and they’re afraid to even identify as a servicemember."

In recent years, that high-profile focus on military family and veterans issues has lead to easier rules on employment credentialing for military spouses, national partnerships on veterans employment efforts and a rise in local community reintegration programs.

But the first ladies -- who called themselves close friends even though their husbands are political foes -- said some of the long-term health effects of the wars will linger for decades, and warned against the public assuming that the challenges of military life are waning because the wars overseas are winding down.

Those hardships include frequent military moves and overseas tours, which lead to school changes for kids, job changes for spouses and extra stress for the entire family.

"I wish every American had an opportunity to go to a base, to meet with families, to meet with servicemembers, because we would think differently about our challenges as individuals," Obama told the crowd of community organizers.

Both women said they plan to continue their advocacy work on behalf of military families for years to come, saying even outside the White House their status gives them a national pulpit to help highlight issues of importance.

And they plan to join veterans organizations in lobbying the next White House to do the same.

"We you spend time on a base, and you know these men and women, and you know their families, you don’t just talk about war like there are no implications," Obama said. "It’s serious business, and lives are changed forever."

Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.

In Other News
Load More