Agencies outline efforts to support military families
"We are here today because nearly a decade of war has been taking place, and our Armed Forces -- you and your families -- have done everything you've been asked to do," President Obama said, during a press conference to unveil a report highlighting nearly 50 agency commitments to improve support services. "You've been everything we could ask you to be. You have done your duty. And as a grateful nation, we must do ours."
The document comes in response to Presidential Study Directive-9, which ordered Cabinet secretaries and agency heads to take a coordinated, comprehensive approach to assisting troops' and veterans' families. Obama commissioned the study last spring, according to the Defense Department.
The report enumerates four governmentwide priorities: improving education for military children; enhancing families' psychological health and well-being; developing career and educational opportunities for military spouses; and increasing child care availability and quality.
First lady Michelle Obama and Jill Biden, who have both advocated for military families, also spoke on Monday. "Don't think for one minute that Jill and I will not keep pushing and advocating and fighting for you, because we will," Michelle Obama said. "And we're not going to stop until every part of our society -- every part, both inside and outside of government -- is fully mobilized to support our troops and their families."
All the Cabinet secretaries signed the report, signifying their dedication to making the well-being of military families one of their highest priorities.
The document, Strengthening Our Military Families: Meeting America's Commitment, outlines a number of partnerships among agencies to achieve the four broad goals. Defense and the Health and Human Services Department are working together to confront suicide trends and to improve access to child care. Defense is also joining the Veterans Affairs Department to focus on mental health and will review benefits provided to key populations within the military family community, including comparing military to civilian pay. The review will conclude in May.
VA also has teamed up with HHS and the Housing and Urban Development and Labor departments to form the Interagency Council on Homelessness. The council is aiming to eliminate homelessness for veterans by 2015. That is no small undertaking; VA estimates that 107,000 veterans were homeless on any given night in 2009. The Pentagon and the Homeland Security, Transportation and Treasury departments are "accelerating efforts to bring down professional licensing barriers to promote competitive career advancement across states on par with civilian advancement," the report stated. In addition, Defense is partnering with the U.S. Agriculture Department to host the Family Resilience Conference in Chicago in April. The conference will provide a national forum for serving military and at-risk families.
The Education Department has established a policy that will allow officials to favor grant applications that meet the needs of military students. Meanwhile, the Treasury Department's new Office of Service Members Affairs, led by Holly Petraeus, aims to educate and protect military families against predatory lending.
The report emphasized not only service, but communication as well. It outlined a governmentwide effort to increase opportunities for military personnel, veterans and their families to share their needs and to critique and improve federal programs.
The initiative also aims to increase national appreciation for those who serve. "Stronger military families will strengthen the fabric of America," President Obama said in the report. "By spotlighting their devotion to service, internal resilience and patriotism, all Americans will have examples to emulate."
The first lady will appear on Oprah on Thursday to promote a new campaign to garner national support for service members and their families.