Remarks by the First Lady and Dr. Biden at a Joining Forces Nurses Event
University of Pennsylvania
2:52 P.M. EDT
DR. BIDEN: Thank you, Dr. Meleis, for that kind introduction. I can see you're a great educator.
It's great to be here in Philadelphia to mark the one-year Joining Forces anniversary. Many of you know that I'm a proud military mom. One of the best parts of my role as Second Lady is spending time with so many veterans and military families. And I've traveled around the country and the world, and I'm always inspired by the strength and resilience of military families.
Our military families have done so much for our country, and each of us can do something in return. That’s why the First Lady and I started Joining Forces last year -- so that every American can take action to honor and support our military families. The federal government is doing its part. And as we've seen all across the country this past year, companies, stores, churches, schools, individuals are all stepping up to support military families.
We have asked a lot of our service men and women since September 11, 2001. They and their families have responded to the need for more frequent and longer deployments. As they have done in the past, these troops and their families have stepped up with no complaint.
We know that some of our returning veterans and wounded warriors face significant challenges when they come home. We have seen a growing number of veterans returning with post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury. Making sure that they get the care they need is a priority for this administration and for Joining Forces. That’s why I'm so pleased to be here today for this announcement.
Nurses represent America's largest health care workforce. Many of you know that I'm a community college professor, and I've had the great privilege over the years of teaching countless nursing students -- and I have to tell you, they're always my A students. I know just how dedicated nurses are to their profession.
Nurses are on the front lines in providing life-saving care in nearly every community. And this is critical, because only half of our veterans seek care through the VA system. Nurses are vital to ensuring that all our veterans receive the care they need and deserve. More than 500 nursing schools, and more than 150 nursing organizations are joining forces to make sure our nurses are prepared to meet the unique health needs of servicemembers, veterans and their families.
The leading nursing schools and nursing organizations have committed to educate current and future nurses on how to recognize and treat post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury, depression and other combat-related issues. This Joining Forces commitment means there will be more than 3 million nurses ready to meet the needs of our brave men and women. This is absolutely essential to ensuring our returning servicemembers and their families receive the care they deserve. Thank you, for this tremendous effort.
Our military families deserve the very best efforts of each of us, to ease the burdens created by their service to our country. It is our sacred obligation to show our military families that we truly appreciate their sacrifices on our behalf.
Before I close, I want to give a special thank you to my good friend and partner in this effort, First Lady Michelle Obama. She is a committed, caring advocate who has done so much for our military families. Thank you, Michelle. (Applause.)
And now, I am so pleased to introduce Lieutenant Commander Pamela Wall -- a nurse who understands firsthand the kind of wounds we are talking about today. She joined the U.S. Navy Corps in 1996 as a nurse, and has served at military medical facilities around the world. as a pre-doctoral student at the University of Pennsylvania, her research is focused on traumatic brain injury. Thank you, Pamela, for your service.
And now, please join me in welcoming Lieutenant Commander Wall. Thank you. (Applause.)
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MRS. OBAMA: Thank you all so much. (Applause.) Thank you.
AUDIENCE MEMBERS: We love you, Michelle! (Applause.)
MRS. OBAMA: You all, thank you so much. That’s very sweet, very sweet.
Well, I can’t tell you what a pleasure it is to be here with all of you today, and to feel this enthusiasm. This is good stuff. (Laughter.)
I want to start by thanking Dr. Meleis for her very kind introduction. And I'd like to thank both her and Lieutenant Commander Wall for their outstanding leadership at this university, and for the work that they're doing on this effort. And of course, I have to recognize my partner and dear friend, Dr. Jill Biden. I mean, she has just been a tireless advocate for our men and women in uniform. (Applause.) She has been a tremendous partner for Joining Forces, and a tremendous voice. And I am grateful to have her as a partner and as a friend.
I also want to recognize Mrs. Lisa Nutter, who is here -- was here representing both herself and her husband. She had to run -- her husband Mayor Nutter. Assume you'd know that. But I was happy she was able to attend, and just want to acknowledge her today.
And I also know that my friend, Patrick Murphy, your former congressman and a veteran himself -- (applause) -- as well as a champion for veterans and military families -- he is here. And I want to thank Patrick for being with us today.
And most of all, I want to thank all of the nurses and all of the nursing students who are here with us today. (Applause.) Yes, absolutely. Because whether we're in a hospital or a doctor's office or community health center, nurses are often the first people we see when we walk through that door. And we often spend much more time with nurses than just about any other health professional. And I have seen this again and again in my own life experiences -- especially as a mother.
Now, I have been fortunate enough to have some terrific doctors, and I am grateful for every last one of them, but when my daughters were born, it was the nurses who spent the most time with me and my husband. They were the first ones to notice when something wasn't right, or when we needed a little extra time and attention. And as my girls started to grow and I took them to all those well-baby exams and checkups -- it's a lot of them -- the nurses always took the time to answer all of my crazy, anxious questions, and to put my mind at ease.
So quite simply, nurses are the front line of America's health care system. Every day, with your hard work, with your skill, your compassion, nurses determine the quality of care that we all receive. So when Jill and I launched Joining Forces and we first started thinking about how to improve health care for our veterans and military families, it was very clear that we needed to call on all of you -- America's nurses and nursing students. And it is clear from today's announcement that you all have answered the call in a tremendous way. I mean, you all are mobilized and organized.
And because of your hard work, 3 million -- and that number, 3 million -- nurses -- (applause) -- will get the training that they need to better support our men and women in uniform and their families.
Now, when you think about it, it's not surprising that America's nurses came through in this way. Because we all know that nurses get things done. Ask any doctor. They don’t know what they're doing, do they? (Laughter.)
We are all so thrilled to be announcing this commitment as we celebrate the one-year anniversary of Joining Forces. This was excellent timing. Because the fact is, your work is more critical for our veterans and military families than ever before. As all of you know, and have heard from our speakers, that while the majority of our troops and veterans return home with few or no mental health challenges at all -- and that’s important to note -- many do experience the so-called "invisible wounds of war."
Since 2000, more than 44,000 of our troops have sustained at least moderate traumatic brain injuries. And studies show that as many as one in six Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have reported symptoms of PTSD. Similar numbers have reported signs of post-deployment depression.
Now, I want to be clear on this point: These combat-related mental health challenges are natural, normal, human responses to the violence of war. They are not in any way a sign of weakness, and they should never be a source of shame or a cause for stigma. (Applause.) But too often, these conditions are misunderstood or misdiagnosed. And also, many of our veterans and military families don’t live in military communities, or they don’t have a VA hospital nearby. So when they seek help, they often rely on local clinics and hospitals; places where health professionals don’t always have the information and training they need to provide the care that America's heroes deserve.
But we know that training exists. We know that information is out there. We know that high quality of care is possible, and we see examples every day, all across this country. At the University of Detroit Mercy School of Nursing, nursing students are working with engineering students to design devices that will help veterans with disabilities return to the activities they love. And they recently worked with a veteran who had trouble grasping objects and holding his arms steady. With the device they built for him, he's been able to resume his favorite hobbies -- hunting and photography. And that’s so important. Nurses were right there.
At the San Diego State University School of Nursing, they're helping run a program for troops and veterans and their spouses. During weekend retreats, they work with these couples on restoring their relationships after deployments. And they cover everything from problem solving and communication skills to dealing with trauma and stress.
And at the University of South Florida College of Nursing, they're even testing a new therapy to treat PTSD. And one of their patients is a veteran named Josh Thomas. And since returning from Afghanistan, Josh had been suffering from insomnia, anxiety, nightmares, high blood pressure, depression. But after just two therapy sessions, he saw dramatic improvements. And as he put it -- and these are his words -- he said, "before the therapy, I didn’t feel I had any control over my life, or the sinking feeling of drowning. But after the second session, I feel I have some control, and am actually swimming -- getting somewhere. This therapy changed my life." Those were his words.
And ultimately, that’s what this new initiative that we're announcing today is all about. It's about insuring that nurses across this country have that kind of information; have the tools and also the training they need to change the lives of our veterans and military families. And that is the least we can do for the men and women who have served this country so bravely.
And I cannot say it again -- as Jill said before -- these people answer the call. I know we have a number of these wonderful heroes with us today. So to all of you, and our men and women in uniform all across the country who may be watching this, I want to send a very clear message to all of you, particularly on this issue: No matter what you're going through, America will be there for you and your families. That’s what this is about. (Applause.)
And Jill and I have seen it. People are ready to step up for you. So if you need help, don’t be afraid to ask for it -- because we also know that that’s your training too, you don’t ask for help, and you handle things so well. But don’t be afraid. If you know someone else who's struggling, encourage them to get the support they need. Seeking help is not a sign of weakness; in fact, it's a sign of strength. It can set an example for those who served alongside of you, and it can also help eliminate any remaining stigma that surrounds conditions like PTSD and TBI and post-deployment depression.
And with the new commitment that we're announcing today, we'll be doing our part to ensure that no matter where you turn to for help, America's single largest health care workforces -- more than 3 million nurses -- will be ready to meet your needs.
So ask for help. We want to ensure that no matter where you live, you will find providers who make you feel comfortable. That’s the first step -- we want you to feel comfortable. People who understand your unique challenges and who will give you a level of care that honors your service and your sacrifice. So thank you.
And to all of the nurses and nursing students here today and across this country, I want to be clear that we need your leadership, not just in this area -- in our hospitals and clinics and doctor's offices -- we need your leadership period. Because in addition to being health professionals, you are also neighbors and friends, and active members of your schools and your communities, and we need you to be leaders in those capacities as well when it comes to this issue.
We need you to educate people about the challenges that our veterans and military families are facing. As you learn and grow, we need you to spread the word. We need you to work with your employers to better support our veterans as they transition to civilian life. We need you to work with teachers and coaches and youth group leaders to help them understand that our military kids are going through a lot as well.
All of you have a critically important role to play in this mission. And it's not just because you are nurses, but because you all are good citizens, and you have that compassion. That’s why we have made this new initiative a centerpiece of our work through Joining Forces. Because with your expertise as nurses, we know that people will listen to you -- people will listen to you. We know that people will trust what you have to say. And we know that by joining forces with all of you and millions of nurses across this country, we can serve our men and women in uniform and their families as well as they have served this country. That’s what this is all about.
So I want to, once again, thank all you and all of the nursing schools and organizations that are leading the way. This is truly amazing, what you're doing. And you're doing work that will have an impact. I mean, just imagine the spouse or the military kid who walks into your office or your clinic, or into whatever environment, and they've got somebody who can listen. They've got somebody who has training, somebody who has dealt in this world and can make them feel just a little safer. That’s our duty. That’s the sacrem -- sacred promise, as Jill said, that we have to these men and women in uniform.
So I look forward to working with all of you to ensure that our veterans and military families get the world-class care that they deserve. And congratulations on all the work that you are going to do. It is going to be fabulous. I can't wait to see you there, especially the students. So work hard. Get good grades. Stay out of trouble. (Laughter.)
Thank you all. God bless. (Applause.)
3:16 P.M. EDT