Jill Biden announces next steps for military family program

National

FILE – In this March 9, 2021, file photo, first lady Jill Biden, speaks at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island in Oak Harbor, Wash. Jill Biden is bringing a new focus to an old cause: supporting America’s military families. (Ken Lambert /The Seattle Times via AP, Pool)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Jill Biden is bringing a new focus to an old cause: supporting America’s military families.

The first lady on Wednesday announced the next chapter for a military family support program she and then-first lady Michelle Obama led during the Obama administration.

Biden said military families are as important to the nation as a rudder is to a ship and that supporting their physical, social and emotional health is a national security imperative.

“We have an all-volunteer force, and it continues only because generations of Americans see the honor, dignity and patriotism of this calling,” the first lady said at the White House.

“How can we hope to keep our military strong if we don’t give our families, survivors and caregivers what they need to thrive? If we don’t act on our sacred obligation?” she asked.

Biden said her relaunch of the Joining Forces initiative will focus on employment and entrepreneurship opportunities for military families, education for the more than 2 million children of enlisted parents and veterans, and the overall health and well-being of these families.

She noted that just 1% percent of the country serves in the all-volunteer military.

“No one has more strength, grit and resilience than our military families, but you can’t do this alone,” she said. “We have to help you carry this weight, by improving access to mental health resources, ensuring everyone can put food on the table and supporting caregiving families and our survivors.”

The first lady was joined virtually at Wednesday’s event by U.S. military families, advocates and others from around the world, a total of more than 100 people in individual boxes on screens behind her on the stage. Afterward, she planned to tour the Military OneSource call center, a Defense Department operation that provides 24/7 support to service members and their families.

Biden spent her opening weeks as first lady conducting listening sessions with the spouses of senior Defense Department officials and military leaders, military family advocates and military children. Last month, she toured U.S. military bases in Washington state and California.

During the 2020 presidential campaign, she promised to revive Joining Forces. Shortly before President Joe Biden took office, the first lady named Rory Brosius as the initiative’s executive director. Brosius previously served as the program’s deputy director.

Biden is a military daughter and mother, with grandchildren who are military kids.

Her father was a Navy signalman in World War II who went to college on the GI Bill. Her late son, Beau, a father of two children, served in the Delaware Army National Guard, including a year in Iraq. Beau Biden died of brain cancer in 2015 at age 46.

Joining Forces began in 2011 under President Barack Obama’s administration and was led by Mrs. Obama and Jill Biden, when Joe Biden was vice president. The mission was to encourage the public and private sectors to support service members, veterans, their families and their caregivers. The program focused on education, employment and wellness.

After leaving the White House in 2017, Jill Biden continued working with military families through the Biden Foundation.

The Trump administration continued the focus on military issues and care for veterans, including increasing the military budget. Former first lady Melania Trump and Karen Pence, the wife of former Vice President Mike Pence, worked on military family issues but without the Joining Forces banner.

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