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Earlier today, I had the great privilege of joining First Lady Michelle Obama and many of the nation’s leaders in announcing proposed changes to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) that recognize the unique circumstances faced by the caregivers of our country’s wounded, ill and injured service members and veterans.
The Joining Forces announcement reflects a collaborative, public-private effort between the Departments of Defense, Labor and Veterans Affairs, along with private sector business and non-profit organizations. Joining the First Lady were Secretaries from the Departments of Labor, Defense and Veterans Affairs; Secretaries of the Army, Navy and Air Force, as well as the Joint Chiefs Chairman, and all of the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The proposal announced today by Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis continues this Administration’s commitment to our wounded warriors and their caregivers. The new language would extend the entitlement of military caregiver leave to qualifying family members of veterans who are dealing with a serious injury or illness for up to five years after leaving the military. At this time, the law only covers family members of “currently serving” service members. Additionally, the proposal expands the military family leave provisions of the FMLA by extending qualifying leave to employees whose family members serve in the regular armed forces. Currently, the law only covers families of National Guard members and reservists. These changes will ensure that our military families have peace of mind knowing that they won’t have to choose between keeping their jobs and caring for their loved ones.
The rules also provide flexibility to all of our Armed Forces personnel as they deal with the unpredictability of military life. If a loved one is unexpectedly deployed, or a spouse is home on rest and recuperation leave, these new protections will allow qualifying family members to take time off work to handle childcare, financial or legal obligations, or simply spend time with the ones they love.
In addition to the announcement by Secretary Solis, the First Lady also announced major commitments from the private sector:
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s newly formed Military Spouse Business Alliance (MSBA) has committed to hosting a career forum and hiring fair that focuses on wounded warrior spouses and caregivers. The event will take place at Bethesda/Walter Reed hospital in May 2012. Additionally, spouses and caregivers of wounded warriors will be included in the 10 hiring fairs for military spouse that the MSBA will conduct at military installations across the country during 2012.
Building on successful pilot programs at Fort Belvoir and Fort Carson last year, the USO, Hire Heroes USA, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have committed to conducting 14 Career Opportunity Days focused on the employment of wounded, ill and injured warriors, their spouses and their caregivers.
Career Opportunity Days are non-traditional career fairs, where 15-20 employers connect with 75-100 wounded ill or injured warriors, spouses, and caregivers based on mutual interests in the employer’s industry and the job seeker’s occupational background. Employers conduct mock interviews on-site giving the service member, spouse or caregiver the opportunity to interact with a prospective employers in a less intimidating environment. In many cases, these interviews lead to job offers on the spot.
In the lead up to each of the 14 Career Opportunity Days, which will take place at six major installations during 2012, Hire Heroes USA will conduct premier transition workshops to prepare wounded, ill, and injured warriors, their spouses and caregivers with first class resumes and better interview techniques.
Two significant non-profit organizations supporting caregivers have stepped up to enhance their existing support for this special group of Americans. Operation Homefront and the Semper Fi fund have identified service opportunities that every American can undertake in support of our nation’s caregivers. Volunteer opportunities are accessible on the Joining Forces website.
This effort includes significantly expanded volunteer opportunities in all 50 states in support of caregivers, with specific focus of effort in San Diego, San Antonio, Washington, D.C., Portsmouth and Camp Lejeune. Additional service opportunities will be identified in the coming month at sites throughout the country.