Dr. Jill Biden sat down with Lylah Alphonse of U.S. News & World Report to talk about our Joining Forces initiative and what businesses and communities can do to support those who have courageously served our nation. This interview originally appeared in U.S. News & World Report. You can find the original post here.
Though the unemployment rate in the U.S. continues to fall, the country is still coping with a skills gap, especially in certain science- and technology-intensive fields like IT and health care. Veterans could fill the gap -- if only employers were more aware of the skills these men and women gained while in military service.
"Not every hiring manager is going to know that a chief petty officer has been responsible for the lives of dozens of their peers," First Lady Michelle Obama said during the Women Veterans Career Development Forum in Arlington, Virginia, on Monday. "Not every HR director understands that a gunner’s mate is probably trained to do some of the most complex, high-tech analysis that you'll find anywhere."
To help bridge that gap, and to encourage citizens to support veterans and military families, the First Lady and Jill Biden, the wife of Vice President Joe Biden, launched Joining Forces in 2011.
"First Lady Michelle Obama and I started Joining Forces to connect service members, veterans, and their families with the resources available to them and to rally our country to do even more," Biden tells U.S. News. "They have earned our respect and admiration and so we wanted to show them how much we appreciate their service with more than just words, but with real, concrete action through employment, education and wellness."
In just three years, the Joining Forces initiative has encouraged employers to hire and train more than 540,000 veterans and military spouses, according to the Obama administration. Biden took some time to chat with U.S. News about what the initiative has accomplished, and what comes next.
How has your connection to the military had an impact on your life?
Biden: My father served in the Navy during World War II and my son Beau is a major in the Delaware Army National Guard. As a proud military daughter, mother and a grandmother to military-connected children, I understand the mixture of pride and concern that all military families share when a loved one is in harm's way.
In the year Beau was deployed to Iraq, our family learned just how much it means when members of the community reach out to support a family. At the time, a teacher of my granddaughter Natalie hung a picture of Beau in the classroom to remind all the students that Natalie's dad was away fighting for our country.
Whether it is a neighbor shoveling snow from the driveway, a friend bringing over a home-cooked meal, or your church including you in their prayers, sometimes it is the smallest acts of kindness that matter the most.
Joining Forces turned three years old earlier this year. What has the initiative accomplished for military families in general, and for veterans in particular?
Biden: From the very beginning, Michelle and I both knew the American people would come out in full force. But I think it is safe to say we have been overwhelmed by the support shown for our service members, our veterans and their families.
Businesses have stepped up, hiring more than half a million veterans and spouses in the past three years. This past April, our administration announced the groundbreaking Veterans Employment Center website to connect transitioning service members, veterans, and their families to meaningful training and career employment opportunities.
Caregivers have stepped up. This week, health care networks and professional associations are collaborating to offer "Joining Forces Wellness Week," five sessions of virtual training for providers and students, focused on providing quality care for service members, veterans and their families. Additionally, through the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, over 150 state and national nursing organizations and 650 nursing schools have committed to ensuring our nation’s nursing workforce is prepared to meet the unique health needs of service members, veterans and their families.
And educators have stepped up. More than 100 colleges and universities have signed on to "Operation Educate the Educators" to train thousands of future teachers so they are prepared to identify the challenges military kids face. As a lifelong educator and a military mom, the way we reach out to military children in our classrooms is especially close to my heart.
Three years ago, when I visited troops with my husband, Joe, at Camp Victory in Iraq for the Fourth of July holiday, I met a general who told me a story I will never forget. During a concert at his 6-year-old daughter’s school, one of her classmates burst into tears when the song “Ave Maria” played. She told the teacher it was the song they played at her daddy’s funeral. He died in Iraq. Her teacher was unaware she was a military child. That is when I knew we had to do more to raise awareness both inside and outside the classroom about what military families go through.
America has stepped up to make a real difference, but going forward we must challenge ourselves to do even more.
What do you think schools and businesses need to do to improve conditions for or provide opportunities for veterans?
Biden: One of the best ways we can support those who serve is by providing them with the tools and resources they need to pursue an education or find a good-paying job. That’s why resources like the U.S. Department of Veterans Affair’s GI Bill Comparison Tool are so important. In just a couple of easy steps, veterans can calculate their GI Bill benefits at more than 10,000 approved schools and job training programs.
In my own classes, I find veterans who return to school to complete their higher education or retool their job skills. It is important that institutions of higher education recognize the unique needs of our service members, veterans and their families. I always ask my students if they or someone they care about ever served in the military.
Employers looking to hire our veterans should understand it is not only the right thing to do for our country, but it is right thing to do for the bottom line. Veterans are among the most talented and skilled members of America’s workforce, and by giving them an opportunity to lead you will be making your business more productive.
Looking to the future, what do you hope Joining Forces will achieve next?
Biden: I believe our veterans, service members and their families deserve the very best efforts of each of us to show them how much we appreciate their service to our country. As more than a million service men and women end their military careers and transition back to civilian life, there is more that we can do together to welcome them home.
This Veterans Day, and every day after, Michelle and I hope that Joining Forces will continue to inspire Americans to honor all of the men and women who have worn the military uniform through concrete actions and opportunities for veterans, service members, and their families, and inspire the next generation to do the same.