Remarks by the First Lady and Dr. Jill Biden to National Governors Association
State Dining Room
10:40 A.M. EST
DR. BIDEN: Thank you very much. (Applause.) Thank you, David, for that kind introduction. And thank you all for coming this morning. It was great to see you all last night. And wasn’t Audra McDonald incredible? (Applause.)
So we’re delighted to have you here at the White House again this morning. And the last time we were together, Michelle and I talked to you about one of our top priorities of our initiative Joining Forces, which I’m sure you all know about, which is our way to honor and support our troops, veterans and military families.
And we talked about one of the top concerns that we hear about from military spouses wherever we go, and that's professional licensing. So I’m sure you remember this from last year, many of you do who were here.
And our nation’s military spouses move 10 times more than their civilian counterparts, and 35 percent of those spouses have jobs that require a professional license. So they're our teachers, our nurses, our social workers. And we heard from a teacher -- this is just one of the instances -- who had 10 years' experience in her specialty in one state, and then when she moved to another state, she had to wait because the exam only took place twice a year. So she lost a lot of time and actually a lot of income because she had to wait. And then we met a nurse who moved 10 times during her husband’s service and needed to go through a different and complicated process every time she moved.
So these are just a few of the countless stories we’ve heard that illustrate what a challenge license portability really is for our military spouses.
Back in February of last year when we met with you, only 11 states had pro-spouse legislation. So the First Lady and I asked you for your help, and you’ve stepped up. Yes. (Applause.) And you stepped up because you appreciate how much our military families do for our country every single day. And just last month, Arkansas became the 28th state to pass legislation.
In just one year we’ve made tremendous progress, and the First Lady and I are really appreciative of your efforts. But there’s still more to do. Right now we’re thankful that we have 13 more states that already have introduced legislation and are headed in the right direction. So if your state has a small active-duty population, you might think that this issue may not impact you, but every state has a National Guard or Reserve. And with so many families -- military families transitioning out of the military now and in the next few years, they’ll be focused on finding good jobs, good schools and good communities, whether there is a military base nearby or not.
So for the sake of our military families, it’s important that all 50 states get this done. And passing these laws is just the first step. We hope all of you will reach out to your bases and your National Guard and Reserve communities, talk with the military spouses -- I’m sure many of you already do this already -- and make sure that these laws are working for our military families.
So thank you for helping ease the burden for our military spouses and you’ve all done so much in all of your states. So again, thank you for all that you’ve done already.
And now I’d like to introduce someone who has been working tirelessly for military families, someone who would like to tell you about our next effort. You didn't think you were coming here without an ask, right? (Laughter.) So to make sure that all of our military families have good family -- good family-supporting jobs, so I’d like to introduce our First Lady, Michelle Obama. (Applause.)
MRS. OBAMA: Thanks so much. (Applause.) Thank you all. Good morning. Thank you. I hope you all got some rest after last night. We had a good time -- little tired. (Laughter.) If you noticed, I stayed up a little bit later -- (laughter) -- a little bit longer than I had anticipated, but it was well worth it. But it's good to have you back this morning.
I want to thank Jill, once again, for that introduction, but more importantly for being such a tremendous partner on our Joining Forces initiative. She's brought her level of passion and focus to this. We could not be where we are without somebody like Jill who knows these issues, who lives them as a Blue Star mom every day. So I want to thank her. But I also want to echo -- absolutely. (Applause.)
And to echo Jill, I want to start by thanking all of you for the incredible work that you have done on the effort of spousal licensing. I mean, it's truly a tremendous effort to go from 11 states to all but 13 states having gotten that done. And as I was talking to Governor Christie and others, this isn't an issue that people don’t want to work on, it's just a matter of governors being aware of what's going on in their states. And the truth is, is that once you know, so many of you have stepped up because we all want the best for our troops, our veterans, and for their families.
Your leadership has been truly phenomenal, and it just goes to show the power that states and governors have to make a difference for our troops, veterans and our families. But, like Jill said, our work here is far from finished. And I'm not just talking about licensing for our military spouses, I'm also talking about supporting our men and women in uniform as more and more of them make that transition back to civilian life.
And as my husband announced during the State of the Union address, 34,000 troops are going to be coming home from Afghanistan in the next year. And that -- yes, that’s a good thing. (Applause.) And that war will be over by the end of 2014. So in the coming years, more than 1 million servicemembers -- 1 million of them -- will make the transition to civilian life. I mean, just think about that impact -- a million men and women hanging up their uniform, trying to figure out what's next, and doing everything they can to make that change as seamless as possible for all of their families.
So the fact is that while this time of war may be ending, the truth is that our responsibilities to our troops and their families will really just be ramping up. And that’s what I want to talk with you all about today -- how we can fulfill what is perhaps our most pressing responsibility to our troops. And that is to make sure that when they come home after serving and stepping up on our behalf, that they can find a job -- and not just any job, but a good job, the kind of job that they can raise their families on. Now, some of this work has already begun. Last summer, my husband created a taskforce to help our servicemembers obtain the national certification that they need to help fill high-demand civilian jobs starting with the manufacturing industry.
And today, we are excited to announce that we’re expanding this effort to the state level to focus on the health care and transportation industries. So the idea is simple. Many of you are working on these issues already. If a servicemember has spent years treating wounded troops in a military hospital, they shouldn’t have to then spend thousands of dollars to get back into the classroom and study things that they've already learned just to get the same kind of job in the civilian world. We want to make it easier for those who served as medics or drivers in the military to get new jobs as paramedics and nurses and physician assistants or truck drivers.
And since the credentials and licenses for those jobs are issued through the states, that means that all of you as America's governors have a very unique responsibility and opportunity to address this issue. We know that right now our men and women in uniform face all kinds of obstacles before they can put their skills to use at home. These men and women have spent thousands of hours in combat zones, saving lives amid explosions and gunfire. They've driven armored vehicles thousands of miles on dangerous roads lined with IEDs. Yet, back here at home they can't get hired to drive a semi or serve as an EMT.
So take the example of Maria Aliftiras. She spent eight years as a medic in the Army Reserves -- eight years. But when she left the Reserves, she had to take 1,200 hours of courses and clinical work to get her civilian paramedics license. And she said that hundreds of those hours, about half of the coursework she had to take, was spent reviewing skills she had already mastered.
And then there is former Navy Corpsman Eric Smith, who was once in charge of a 20-bed intensive care unit in San Diego. After that, he served two tours in Iraq as a combat medic for a Marine infantry unit. But when he came home, he couldn't get hired in a medical clinic. So he had to take up odd jobs. He had to serve as a bartender, do some day work. And at one point, he even had to sign up to be a test patient for a drug study just to make enough money to get by. And as he put it -- and these are his words -- he said, "In the civilian world, my military education and training did not translate because I didn't have a piece of paper saying that it did." So we all have to think about that. Because of a piece of paper, because our credentialing processes don't adequately reflect the skills and expertise our troops have gained serving this country, putting their lives on the line -- troops like Petty Officer Smith end up tending bar instead of saving lives.
But, fortunately, again, all of you have the power to make this right. As we have seen on the spousal licensing issue, there are a number of ways that you as governors can help put our troops back to work without lowering a single professional standard in your states, because that's something we talked about. This is not about lowering standards. We've done this for our troops with manufacturing skills, and hundreds of them have earned advanced certifications already. So now it’s time to get them back to work in the medical and transportation fields as well, and to do it right away.
So our goal is that by the end of 2015 -- we’ve got another goal, 2015 -- we want all 50 states to have taken legislative or executive action to help our troops get the credentials they need. And that means that our troops will be taken care of no matter what state they decide to call home, which is why on the spousal licensing issue it is so important to get the rest of those 13. We don’t want our men and women -- and their families -- in uniforms and veterans to be limited to where they can live because not all states are onboard.
Now, we know that every state is different and that what works beautifully in one state might not work as easily in another, so we’ve given you all packets like we did a year ago that lay out, step by step, all kinds of options for what each of your states could do on this issue. And in your packet you’ll also get some tips and also some success stories from states like Oklahoma, Colorado, where Governors Fallin and Hickenlooper have taken important steps to ease the credentialing burden on their veterans in their states. So we have some wonderful models already out there.
And I want to emphasize that today will not be the last time that you hear from Jill and me on this issue, because with everything that involves our troops, veterans, and families, we will be working to help support you in whatever way we can along the way. And we have a couple of folks here today who can help with whatever you need. We have Todd Veazie, who is here, who’s the new Executive Director for Joining Forces. Todd is right there. We have Frank DiGiovanni, who is with the DOD. Frank, would you stand so that they can see you as well?
They are here and ready to answer any questions, to provide any follow-up that you may need. Put them in contact with whoever they should be talking to in your states. And, more importantly, we’re also going to be talking to your spouses about this, which is really the key -- (laughter) -- because we’re going to make sure they nag you until this happens in your state. It’s what we’re doing at lunch.
DR. BIDEN: Yes, that’s right.
MRS. OBAMA: We also have members of the American Legion here today as well, because they’re behind this effort 100 percent. And we are so grateful that they’ll be spreading the word about all of this throughout their state and local chapters across the country.
But in the end, all of you are the ones who can make the biggest difference for our troops on this issue. So we need you. We need you to champion these credentialing issues right from the governor’s mansion. We need you to find allies and supporters in your state legislators. We need you to galvanize and involve the media in this effort in every way that you can as well.
Because what we do know is that when you do all that -- what you know as well as Jill and I have seen that people step up. You see that this is one of those issues, as we talked about at dinner, that everyone can get behind. That’s the beauty of it. You’re not going to have to twist many arms to make this happen. People on both sides of the aisle will start lining up to help on this issue because they know like you and I know that if we do this, we’re not just upholding our values and honoring our troops -- we’ll also be lowering the unemployment rate. We’ll be improving our health care system. We’re going to be boosting economic growth in this country through these efforts.
And most importantly, we’re going to be strengthening our country not just for now but for the years ahead. And in the end, that’s really what Joining Forces is all about. It’s not just about supporting our heroes while they’re on the battlefield. It’s about standing with them in these times; standing with them and their families when they come home. When they come, it’s a forever commitment, because we know that they don’t stop serving this country when their military service ends. That is the beauty of our servicemembers. They keep on going.
We know that they are the next generation of leaders all over the place -- in our businesses, in our hospitals, in our schools. They are the key resources that will put this country on the track and keep it on the track of greatness. So we don’t just owe it to them to get issues like this right. We owe it to our communities and we owe it to our country. That’s how we will continue to grow our economy, lift up our families, and create even greater opportunities for generations to come.
So today, I want to once again thank you all. Thank you for everything you do as leaders in your states. Thank you for the sacrifices that you and your families make to do these jobs. And thank you for everything that you have done and will continue to do for our men and women in uniform and their families. And Jill and I look forward to working with you all in the years to come.
So again, thank you. God bless. I hope you have a productive day. And we’ll be following up. (Laughter.) Take care. (Applause.)
11:08 A.M. EST